Saturday 25 January 2020


A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
The great concern in Murnane’s writing is the relationship between the fiction he writes and what he calls the ‘image world’ (he insists this is nothing to do with ‘imagination’ in the sense of making things up (he is, he says, incapable of making things up)), and, to a lesser yet strongly implied degree, the relationship between these two and the ‘actual world’, which he seems to regard as little more than an access point to (or of) the image world, and a place of frailties, disappointment and impermanent concerns. When Murnane describes the “chief character of a conjectured piece of fiction… a certain fictional male personage, a young man and hardly more than a boy” preferring the image-world relationship he had inside his head with a “certain young woman, hardly more than a girl” he sees every day in the railway carriage in which he travels home from school to the actual relationship he starts to develop (and soon abandons) with her after they eventually start to converse, he underscores a turning away, or, rather, a turning inward to the more urgent and intense image-world. Like some woefully under-recognised antipodean Proust, Murnane is fascinated by the mechanics of memory, which he sees as an operation of the image-world upon the actual, giving rise to the ‘true fictions’ that allow elements of the image-world to present themselves to awareness in a multiplicity of guises and versions. Murnane differs from many theorists of fiction in that he does not attribute primacy to the text but to the image-world to which the text gives access and which may contain, for instance, characters who have access, perhaps through their fictions, to image-worlds and characters inaccessible (at least as yet) to us. The million windows (from Henry James: “The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million”) are those of “a house of two or maybe three storeys”, inhabited by writers, all perhaps versions or potential versions of Murnane himself, who look out over endless plains as they engage in the act of writing fiction, or discuss doing so. The multiplicity of this process stands in relation to an unattainable absolute towards which memories and other fictions reach, or, rather, which reaches to us in the form of memories and other fictions. Murnane’s small pallet, his precisely modulated recurring images and his looping, delightfully pedantic style are at once fascinating, frustrating, soporific and revelatory.

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