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From Barley Patch.

Must I Write?

A few weeks before the conception of the male child who would become partly responsible, thirty-five years later, for my own conception, a young man aged nineteen years and named Franz) (aver Kappus sent some of his unpublished poems and a covering letter to Rainer Maria Rilke, who was by then a much-published writer although he was only twenty-eight years of age.

Kappus, of course, wanted Rilke to comment on the poems and to advise him as to who might publish them. In an answering letter Rilke made some general comments, not especially favorable, and declined to discuss the matter of publication. However, Rilke did not fail to advise the young man:
 Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single
 way. Search for the reason that bids you write ... acknowledge to
 yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to
 write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your
 night: must I write?

I first read the above passage in June 1985, soon after I had bought a secondhand copy of Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet, translated by M. D. Herter Norton and published in New York City by W. W. Norton & Company. When I first read the passage, I typed it onto a clean page and then put the page into one of the folders of notes that I used for my classes in the unit that was called Advanced Fiction Writing. Once each year thereafter, I read to the students of that unit the advice of Rilke to the young poet. I then urged the students to question themselves from time to time as Rilke would have had them do. I then said it would be no bad thing if several at least of the persons present were to decide at some time in the future, in the stillest hour of their night, that they need no longer write.

I never afterwards heard that any former student of mine had suddenly decided to write no more or that he or she ever put into practice or even remembered Rilke's stern advice. In the early autumn of 1991, however, four years before I ceased to be a teacher of fiction-writing, and on a bustling afternoon rather than during a still night, and without even putting to myself Rilke's recommended question, I myself gave up writing fiction.

Why had I written?

When I stopped writing, I could have said that I had been writing seriously for more than thirty years. Some of what I had written had been published, but most of it had been stored as manuscripts or typescripts in my filing cabinets and will be there still when I die.

My pieces of published writing were called by publishers and by almost all readers either novels or short stories, but to have them thus called began in time to make me feel uncomfortable, and I took to using only the word fiction as the name for what I wrote. When I stopped writing at last, I had not for many years used the terms novel or short story in connection with my writing. Several other words I likewise avoided: create, creative, imagine, imaginary, and, above all, imagination. Long before I stopped writing, I had come to understand that I had never created any character or imagined any plot. My preferred way of summing up my deficiencies was to say simply that I had no imagination.

I was seldom embarrassed to have to admit this. The word imagination seemed to me connected with antiquated systems of psychology: with drawings of the human brain in which each swelling was named for the faculty residing there. Even when I looked into some or another novel by a contemporary author much praised for his or her imagination, I was far from being envious: a powerful imagination, it seemed, was no preventative against faulty writing.

For many years I wrote, as I thought, instinctively. I most certainly did not write with ease: I labored over every sentence and sometimes rewrote one or another passage many times. However, what might be called my subject matter came readily to me and offered itself to be written about. What I called the contents of my mind seemed to me more than enough for a lifetime of writing. Never while I wrote did I feel a need for whatever it was that might have been mine if only I had possessed an imagination.

I was never merely a writer of course; I had been a reader since long before I became a writer of what I called fiction. Many writers of novels or short stories have claimed to be, in their own words, voracious or insatiable readers. I would describe myself as an occasional or selective reader. As a child, I spent more time on devising what might be called imaginary landscapes than I spent on reading. Of course, many of the details of those landscapes owed their existence to my having read certain passages in certain books. As a child, I seldom read what were called children's books, partly because I hardly ever saw such books and partly because I was capable of reading adults' books from an early age. My parents always had on hand several books borrowed from what was called during my youth a circulating library. As well, they bought each month two magazines filled with short stories. One magazine was Argosy, which came, I think, from England. The other was The Australian Journal, which included not only short stories but part of a published novel. The rule in our household was that my mother would first read each of those magazines so that she could tell me which stories, if any, in each issue were not suitable for me. I would then be allowed access to each issue, provided that I undertook not to read the stories deemed unsuitable. These, of course, I always read first, hoping to learn from them some or another secret from the world of adults. I learned from this furtive reading of mine only that my mother did not want me to read descriptions of what might be called prolonged, passionate embraces and that she did not want me to know that young women sometimes became pregnant even though they were not married.

A person who claims to remember having read one or another book is seldom able to quote from memory even one sentence from the text. What the person probably remembers is part of the experience of having read the book: part of what happened in his or her mind during the hours while the book was being read. I can still remember, nearly sixty years later, some of what I read as a child, which is to say that I can still call to mind some of the images that occurred to me while I read as a child. As well, I claim that I can still feel something of what I felt while those images were in my mind.

I wonder whether I should be surprised that I can still recall the influence on me of certain pieces of popular fiction that I read in the 1950s, whereas I recall hardly anything from the hundreds of hours when I was studying the books prescribed for each of the three years of the major study in English that was a part of my bachelor's degree in the late 1960s. During the years from about 1970 to about 1990, I read about a thousand books, mostly of a sort that could be called literature. When I last looked through the pages of the ledger where the titles and the authors of those thousand books are recorded, I learned that twenty or so of the thousand had left on me some sort of lasting impression. A few moments ago I was able to scribble in quick succession, in the margin of the page where I wrote by hand the early drafts of each sentence on this page, the titles and authors of nine of the twenty or so books mentioned in the previous sentence. And just now, while I was typing the previous sentence, I remembered a tenth title and author. The date when I decided not to go on reading one after another book of a sort that could be called literature--that date was only a few months before the date when I decided to write no more fiction. When I made the earlier decision, I intended to confine my reading in future to the few books that I had never forgotten; I would re-read those books--I would dwell on them for the rest of my life. But after my decision to write no more fiction, I foresaw myself reading not even my few unforgotten books. Instead of reading what could be called literature and instead of writing what I called fiction, I would devise a more satisfying enterprise than either reading or writing. During the rest of my life I would concern myself only with those mental entities that had come to me almost stealthily while I read or while I wrote but had never afterwards detached themselves from me. I would contemplate those images and yield to those feelings that comprised the lasting essence of all my reading and my writing. During the rest of my life, I would go on reading from a vast book with no pages, or I would write intricate sentences made up of something other than words.

Before I began to write the first of the two preceding paragraphs, I was about to report that a few images had come to my mind while I was writing the last two sentences of the paragraph preceding that paragraph. The first of the few was an image of two green paddocks and part of a homestead shaded by trees that first appeared in my mind in 1950, while I was reading the first story I read of the series of short stories published in The Australian Journal about a fictional farm named Drover's Road, or it may have been Drovers' Road. The author was, I think, a woman, but I have long since forgotten her name. The same few chief characters took part in each story; they were members of the latest of the several generations of the family that had lived at the farm, whichever name it had. I have forgotten the names of the chief characters, both male and female, but I felt just now something of what I felt towards a certain female character whenever I read about her: I wanted no sadness or anxiety to be visited on her; I wanted the course of her life to be untroubled. The character in question was young and unmarried, and I wanted her to remain so for as long as I went on reading about her.

While I was typing the first few sentences of the previous paragraph, I was unable to recall any details of the images of persons and faces that I had had in mind while I read as a child the series of short stories referred to. At some time while I was typing the last two sentences of the previous paragraph, I found that I had given, so to speak, to the female character mentioned the image of a face that I first saw during the early 1990s when I looked into a book I had recently bought on the subject of horse-racing in New Zealand. (I recall no reference to horse-racing in any of the short stories in which the young female was a character, but after I had given, so to speak, a face to the character, I recalled that the place called Drover's or Drovers' Road was reported as being in a fictional New Zealand; and as soon as I had recalled this, I saw in the background of my mind, far behind the image mentioned earlier of the two green paddocks and part of a homestead shaded by trees, an image of snow-covered mountains almost certainly derived from a photograph in the book mentioned in the previous sentence--a photograph of part of a so-called stud property where valuable racehorses were kept for breeding).

Not far away (according to the scale of distance that applies in my mind)--not far away from the two green paddocks and part of a homestead is an image of a two-story building intended to be an English farmhouse several centuries old. I have always assumed that this house is surrounded by green paddocks or fields, as they might be called, but only one such green expanse has been of interest to me. It reaches from the vicinity of the house to a steep hill in the middle distance. Near the summit of the hill is a grove or a clump of trees. In the book of fiction that first caused me to see this hill in my mind, the original hill is called Tanbitches. Somewhere in the book is the explanation that the name of the hill is a variation of the phrase ten beeches, the trees near the summit being beech trees.

Sometimes I seem to recall that the variation was explained as being merely the sort of change that happens over time to an often-used phrase. At other times, I seem to recall that Tanbitches was said to be a remnant of the dialect formerly widespread in that part of England. Regardless of which explanation I seem to recall, I always feel again a semblance of the unease that I felt whenever I saw in my mind, as a child-reader, an image of the hill with the trees on it and heard in my mind at the same time the quaint-sounding name of the place.

I should have felt not unease but pleasure. I should have been pleased that I could refer to a prominent place in my mind by using what was more a codeword than an obvious name. I was already aware as a child that the landscapes or the human faces or the melodies or the panels of colored glass in doors or windows or the set of racing-colors or the aviaries of birds or the narratives or descriptive passages in books or magazines--that the origins of the seeming-persons and seeming-places lodged in my mind had each a certain quality that first took my notice and afterwards compelled me to memorize the item affecting me. I am no more able now than I was as a child to apply a name to the quality mentioned in the previous sentence. I have sometimes supposed that I could only find an apt word for the quality if I could devise one or more terms as yet unknown but suitable for inclusion in the English language. (At other times, I have supposed that every item in my mind is a term in a language that has not yet been translated into English.) I should have been pleased to be able to hear in my mind the word Tanbitches whenever I saw in my mind a green field sloping upwards towards a hill with a clump of trees near the top, but the word made me uneasy, and I believe today that my unease caused me for the first time as a child-reader to think of a story, as I would have called it, as having been made up, as I would have said, by an author.

I seem to recall that I was disappointed by the similarity between the plain English of the phrase ten beeches and the would-be quaintness of the word Tanbitches, however its origin might have been explained by the text: that I wished the hill--if it could not have a plain English name--might have been known by a word so outlandish that not even the author could explain its occurrence. I may not be exaggerating if I claim to recall that I preferred the hill in my mind to remain nameless rather than to bear the name assigned to it by the author.

The author in question was named Josephine Tey. The book was Brat Farrar, which was published in monthly installments in The Australian Journal in either 1950 or 1951. At the age when I read every piece of fiction in every issue of the Journal, I was not at all interested in authors, and yet I recall myself speculating sometimes about Josephine Tey, or, rather, about the ghostly female presence of the same name that I was sometimes aware of while I read Brat Farrar. I would not have enjoyed speculating thus. I would much rather have read the text of Brat Farrar in the same way that I read other works of fiction: hardly aware of words or sentences; interested only in the unfolding scenery that appeared to me while my eyes moved past line after line on the page. But the word Tanbitches would cause me to stop and sometimes even to suppose that Josephine Tey had erred: she had failed to learn the true name of the hill and so she had given it a name of her own choosing--Tanbitches was only a word that an author had imagined.

I had another cause for thinking sometimes about the personage named Josephine Tey when I would rather have been admiring the image of the two-story house or the image of the green field rising to the wooded hill, or when I would rather have been feeling towards the images of persons who seemed to live in that scenery as though I lived among them. I seem to remember that Brat Farrar was called a mystery novel and that the plot turned on the return to the family home of a young man claiming to be the long-lost heir to the estate. The claimant, so to call him, was invited to live in the family home although none of the people already living there was yet entirely sure of the truth of his claim. I recall three of these people. One was the claimant's brother, who may have been named Simon and who may have been a twin; another was the claimant's sister, or perhaps half-sister; the third person was an older woman known always as Aunt Bee. The three siblings, if such they were, had no parents that I can recall. Aunt Bee was the oldest of the chief characters and by far the most powerful of those who lived in the two-story house. Whether or not she was their aunt, she seemed to have authority over the three purported siblings. The young woman especially confided in Aunt Bee, consulted her often and almost always followed her advice.

For as long as I had the text of Brat Farrar in front of my eyes, and often at other times, I did as I was compelled to do whenever I was reading much of what I read during the 1950s or whenever I was remembering the experience of having read it. I felt as though I myself moved among the character. I was unable to alter the course of the narrative; anything reported in the text was a fact that I had to accept. However, I was in my way free to alter or to modify the course of events. The text of a work of fiction, as I seem to have understood from the first, reports in detail certain events from certain hours in the lives of the characters but leaves unreported whole days, months, years even. A narrative would often include, of course, a summary of a lengthy period of time, but a mere summary hardly restricted my freedom.

I was free, first of all, to observe and admire. I could watch openly while my favorite female character rode on horseback to the far side of some landscape described in the text and even further, or while she fondled or fed her pet animals or birds, or even while she sat reading some work of fiction and perhaps feeling as though she herself moved among the characters. I was free also to influence the life of my favorite female character, but within strict limits. In 1953, for example, while reading Hereward the Wake by Charles Kingsley, I was distressed by Hereward's abandoning his wife, Torfrida, for another woman. From my standpoint as a shadowy presence among the characters, I knew I could never reverse Hereward's decision. And yet, I was able in some mysterious way to add to whatever remorse he might have felt from time to time; I became, perhaps, one more of the lesser characters whose disapproval conveyed itself to Hereward. More to my satisfaction, I was able to convey--wordlessly, or so it seemed to me--my sympathy to the cast-off Torfrida and even to suppose that this was of help to her.

In my life as the ghost, so to speak, of a fictional character--as the creation of a reader rather than a writer--I could say or do no more than my creator was able to have me say or do, and my creator was a child. He was a most precocious child in some ways: in his reading of adult books, for example, and in his intense curiosity about adult sexuality, so to call it. In other ways, he was an ignorant child. When he sent a version of himself into the scenery that included the hill with the trees on it and the two-story house, he wanted no more than to have that version fall in love with one of the female characters and she with him. And although he could have said that he himself had already fallen in love with many women in what he would have called the real world, he knew about girls' or young women's falling in love only what he had read about them in fiction.

A reader of this work of fiction may be wondering why I had to insinuate a version of myself into the scenery of so many novels or short stories when I might have chosen from the male characters in each work a young man or a boy and might afterwards have felt as though I shared in his fictional life. My answer to that reader is the simple statement that I had never met up with any young male character with whom I could feel the sympathy needed for such a sharing. And the most common reason for my failing to sympathize with young male characters was that I could not comprehend, let alone agree with, the policy of these characters towards young female characters.

Sometimes I tried to live in my mind the life of one or another male character of fiction. I believe I tried, while I read the first of the monthly installments of Brat Farrar, to take part, as it were, in the fictional life of the young man who had arrived at the two-story house claiming to be the long-lost son. If I did so try, then I might well have persisted for longer than I usually persisted. I recall that I suspected from the first that the claimant was an imposter and, therefore, no kin of the young woman. This would have left me free to fall in love with the young woman, who had attracted me as soon as I had begun to read about her. At the same time, my representing myself as her brother or half-brother would have obliged me to disguise my true feeling for the time being--or, if my claim was accepted, perhaps indefinitely. Far from being a hindrance or a hardship, this would have been much to my liking; for me, the process of falling in love needed much secrecy and concealment and pretense. To fall in love with a young woman who had to allow for the possibility that I was her brother or half-brother--such an event would have allowed me to set going all that I considered necessary and appropriate during a courtship: the young man's confiding in the young woman day after day for month after month, if necessary, until she had learned every detail of his life-story, of his daydreams, and of what he might have called his ideal female companion, and until she had come to understand that he was different indeed from the many coarse-minded suitors that she would have read about in fiction who could hardly wait before they tried to kiss and embrace their girl-friends; the young woman's responding to the young man's confidences by reporting in equal detail her own history, especially those periods of her life when she believed herself to be in love with one or another boy or young man; finally, the young woman's falling into the habit of asking the young man, whenever he took his leave of her, where he was likely to be and what he was likely to do during his absence, thereby allowing the young man to suppose that the young woman daydreamed often about him while he and she were apart, so that he did not deceive himself whenever he seemed to feel her presence about him while he was alone, and to suppose further that she was waiting for him to declare his love for her.

Before I began to write the first of the six previous paragraphs, I had intended to report more of what I recalled about my feelings towards the character of Aunt Bee, as she existed in my mind, and more about a further reason that I had for thinking sometimes about the personage known as Josephine Tey when I would have preferred simply to look at the unfolding scenery that appeared to me while I read. I had intended to report that I was jealous of the influence that Aunt Bee had over the young female character that I looked forward to courting in my mind. If the young female had a fault in my eyes, it was her unquestioning admiration of Aunt Bee.

I sensed that Aunt Bee disapproved of my interest in the young female character and that she contrived to keep me from being alone with her. Even though I conducted myself towards the young woman with unfailing seemliness, as though I truly was her brother or her half-brother, still Aunt Bee seemed to suspect me of wanting to make advances to the young woman if only it could be arranged for the two of us to be alone together. Of course I wanted to be alone with the young woman, but for the time being I planned only to have long, serious conversations with her during our meetings.

The publication in serial form of the whole novel surely took at least six months, during which time I would have seen myself often in my mind as a version of the character of the claimant, and even more often as a version of myself inserted, so to speak, into the scenery of the novel. During the two weeks while I was writing the previous two thousand words of this text, I recalled a number of my experiences as a child-reader of the text of Brat Farrar, but not once did I recall any scene in which any version of myself was alone with the young female character. I attribute this to the influence of Aunt Bee. Not only did the young female character consult the older woman at every turn, but I believe that I, whether as reader, seeming character, or intruder-into-the-text, was rather afraid of Aunt Bee.

If only I had been able, in spite of Aunt Bee, to spend some time alone with the young woman and had prepared beforehand not just the substance of what I was going to tell her about myself, but also the scenery in which I was going to explain myself. I have little doubt that Josephine Tey would have described in detail more than one view of the countryside visible from that two-story house, but all I recall today is the distant hill with the clump of trees and the name that I could not accept. The scenery mentioned two sentences ago was of my own making. As soon as I had understood that the two-story house stood among green English countryside, I would have felt free to arrange throughout that countryside my own preferred distant views or hidden nooks. And so, I recall more than fifty years later that I hoped often to sit with the young woman in an upper-story room that had been fitted out as a parlor and the windows of which overlooked a distant moor or fen. I cared nothing for what might be called geographical veracity; I wanted to have the young woman see in the distance the sort of place where she and I might have strolled together as innocent friends if only we had known each other during childhood, or the place where we had, in fact, strolled if I was, in fact, her brother or half-brother. Five or six years before I first read Wuthering Heights, I had decided that a moor was an eminently suitable place for a male and a female child to be alone together and to talk together until the image of each became in the other's mind the utterly trustworthy companion that he and she had always longed for. As for the fen, I thought of it as no more than a shallow swamp that two children might have walked around in complete safety. I believe I might even have decreed--I, the willful reader--that the inexpertly named hill with the coppice near its summit was the source of a tiny stream that trickled downwards in rainy weather until it became, if the rain kept up, what the English call a brook, which I understood to be a watercourse shallow enough and narrow enough for a child to be able to wade across or even to jump across. Since my early childhood, I had been much afraid of large bodies of water or of fast-flowing, murky rivers and drains, but much interested in shallow ponds or swamps or small creeks that filled or flowed only during seasons of rain. Walking with my uncle across his dairy farm during many of my school holidays, I would have liked to inspect certain green places among clumps of rushes where the soil might have been still spongy and damp, but my uncle always reminded me that these places were infested by snakes. The equivalent indoors of my interest in shallow or trickling water was my longing to have access to an upper-story window. At the time when I was reading Brat Farrar I had never been inside a house of more than one story, although I had often daydreamed of watching unobserved from an upper window not only persons dose by but also distant landscapes. At least five years before I read Brat Farrar, I had been taken for the first time to a house where one of my mother's older sisters lived with her husband and her four daughters in a clearing in the Heytesbury Forest in southwestern Victoria. My mother and my aunt, and even the four girls, my cousins, often amused themselves by recalling in my hearing that I had walked into one after another room during my first minutes in their house and had looked behind the door of each room. In reply to their questions at the time, I had said that I was looking for stairs. Their house was hardly more than a cottage, but something about the angle of the roof must have suggested to me as I approached that a few upper rooms or even a single attic might have looked out over more of the forest than I could have seen if I had stood among its nearer trees. I found no stairs, of course, but I found later on the back veranda something that caused me to forget my disappointment. My two oldest girl-cousins, one of them my age and the other a year older, were the owners of the first doll's house that I had seen anywhere but behind shop-windows. The house was of two storys, and seemed to be fitted out with items of tiny furniture. I could not inspect the house: its owners would not allow me or my younger brother to approach it. I tried to explain that I wanted only to look into the house and not to touch it, but the girl-owners were unmoved. My brother and my mother and I were to stay overnight. One of the girl's beds was moved from the tiny bedroom onto the back veranda so that my brother and I could sleep head-to-toe in it. I can only suppose that my mother slept in one of the girl's beds in their room and that two at least of the girls had to sleep head-to-toe, which might have explained in part why the older girls seemed to dislike their visiting cousins, especially me who begged to see into their doll's house or, failing that, to join in their games or their conversations. During the early evening, I felt sure that the owners of the doll's house would take it to their own room at any moment, but the doll's house was still on the back veranda when my brother and I were preparing for bed. I could not believe that the owners had forgotten it. I supposed either that their mother had forbidden them to take the thing into their crowded bedroom or, more likely, that they, the girl-owners, had left it on the veranda in order to entrap me; they knew I was anxious to inspect the house and, probably, to handle some of the items in it; they knew also the rightful position of every bed and pillow and chair; in the morning they would find proof that I had handled certain things; they would convey this proof to their mother and even, perhaps, to my own mother. Having foreseen these possibilities, I became cautious. I forced myself to stay awake until half an hour after I had heard the owners of the doll's house going to their room for the night. Then I slipped out of bed and knelt beside the doll's house and tried to look in through an upper window. A certain amount of moonlight already lit up the back veranda, but while I knelt and peered my head kept the upper story in darkness. I hesitated but then dared to slide the whole doll's house far out onto the veranda, hoping that nothing inside had been moved from its rightful position. Then, while the faint moonlight shone through the windows on one side of the upper story, I stared in through the windows on the other side. I thought that my doing so might reveal to me some secret that my girl-cousins had been keeping from me--perhaps on some bed in an upper room lay a tiny doll with only a thin night-dress covering her female parts. In the event, I had seen in the upper rooms only neat furniture. No doll that my cousins owned was small enough or dainty enough to belong in the house. It was not only I who had no right to poke my fingers through the windows; I began to think of my cousins as hardly worthy to own the house, which I had stopped thinking of as a mere residence for dolls.

Three or four years after my visit to the house in the clearing in the Heytesbury Forest, I first read in a comic book belonging to a boy-cousin of mine, about a character named Doll Man. Some or another unremarkable citizen of a vaguely American city was able, when the need arose, to compress the molecules of his body and to become a doll-sized man. On the night when I had looked into the doll's house, I fell asleep as though my own molecules had somehow been compressed so that I was able to lie comfortably in my chosen bed in an upper-story room overlooking a clearing in the Heytesbury Forest and to hear already in my mind the shrieks of the giant female personages who would look in on me next morning through the window.

I reported at the end of the second paragraph before the previous paragraph that I was often afraid of the character known as Aunt Bee in the work of fiction Brat Farrar. I reported even earlier that I sometimes resented the influence that Aunt Bee was allowed to exert over one at least of the other characters in the work. While I was reporting those matters, I seemed to recall from more than fifty years ago my having once or twice doubted whether the one character in a work of fiction should be allowed to possess so many qualities deemed admirable by the narrator as Aunt Bee was allowed to possess in Brat Farrar. Of course, terms such as narrator and even character were unknown to me at the time. I simply observed what happened in my mind while I read. And although I was afraid of Aunt Bee, I must sometimes have been aware that the cause of her appearing as she did in my mind was no more than that a personage known to me only as Josephine Tey had chosen that she, Aunt Bee, should appear thus.

I would like to be able to report here that I once, even once, supposed that Josephine Tey, whoever she might have been, ought to have written differently about Aunt Bee. I suspect that I had already accepted, more than fifty years ago, that a writer could not be compelled to deal fairly with his or her characters; not to mention readers.


Gerald Murnane was born in 1939 in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria, which he has seldom left. His fiction, however, is full of a range of landscapes, both inner and outer. He has written of Paraguay, Romania, various regions of the U.S., and, perhaps most significantly, Hungary. He learned Hungarian in his fifties, has translated Hungarian writers such as Gyula Illyes and Attila Joszef, and regards Hungarian as an almost sacred tongue. One of the most significant honors he has received was being invited to a dinner in Melbourne commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the suppressed Hungarian rebellion of 1956. Murnane's obsession with horseracing is reflected in his book Tamarisk Row (1974), and his early training for the Roman Catholic priesthood comes to the fore in A Lifetime On Clouds (1976), which has been compared to the early work of James Joyce and Philip Roth. His characteristic fictional mode reached fruition in The Plains (1982). In Landscape and Landscape (1985) and Inland (1988), Murnane refined the metafictive style of The Plains into a deeply personal imaginative terrain. He showed he was not just an cerebral writer but a profoundly emotional one. Velvet Waters (1990) displayed Murnane's talents as an experimental short-story writer. Emerald Blue (1995) was thought to be his last work of fiction; however, Murnane has entered a new period of productivity, heralded by the appearance of his collection of essays, Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, in 2005, and by his forthcoming novel Barley Patch. Murnane won the Patrick White Award in 1999 and is the winner of a special citation in the New South Wales Premier's Awards in 2007. Celebrated by small but intense coteries of admirers in Australia, the U.S., Canada, and Sweden, his fiction is slowly gaining recognition as one of the most remarkable bodies of work Australia has produced.
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Author:Murnane, Gerald
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Excerpt
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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