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Border Districts: A Fiction

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A bittersweet farewell to the world and the word by the Australian master "The mind is a place best viewed from borderlands . . ." Border Districts, purportedly the Australian master Gerald Murnane's final work of fiction, is a hypnotic, precise, and self-lacerating "report" on a life led as an avid reader, fumbling lover, "student of mental imagery," and devout believer--bu A bittersweet farewell to the world and the word by the Australian master "The mind is a place best viewed from borderlands . . ." Border Districts, purportedly the Australian master Gerald Murnane's final work of fiction, is a hypnotic, precise, and self-lacerating "report" on a life led as an avid reader, fumbling lover, "student of mental imagery," and devout believer--but a believer not in the commonplaces of religion, but rather in the luminescence of memory and its handmaiden, literature. In Border Districts, a man moves from a capital city to a remote town in the border country, where he intends to spend the last years of his life. It is time, he thinks, to review the spoils of a lifetime of seeing, a lifetime of reading. Which sights, which people, which books, fictional characters, turns of phrase, and lines of verse will survive into the twilight? A dark-haired woman with a wistful expression? An ancestral house in the grasslands? The colors in translucent panes of glass, in marbles and goldfish and racing silks? Feeling an increasing urgency to put his mental landscape in order, the man sets to work cataloging this treasure, little knowing where his "report" will lead and what secrets will be brought to light. Border Districts is a jewel of a farewell from one of the greatest living writers of English prose.


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A bittersweet farewell to the world and the word by the Australian master "The mind is a place best viewed from borderlands . . ." Border Districts, purportedly the Australian master Gerald Murnane's final work of fiction, is a hypnotic, precise, and self-lacerating "report" on a life led as an avid reader, fumbling lover, "student of mental imagery," and devout believer--bu A bittersweet farewell to the world and the word by the Australian master "The mind is a place best viewed from borderlands . . ." Border Districts, purportedly the Australian master Gerald Murnane's final work of fiction, is a hypnotic, precise, and self-lacerating "report" on a life led as an avid reader, fumbling lover, "student of mental imagery," and devout believer--but a believer not in the commonplaces of religion, but rather in the luminescence of memory and its handmaiden, literature. In Border Districts, a man moves from a capital city to a remote town in the border country, where he intends to spend the last years of his life. It is time, he thinks, to review the spoils of a lifetime of seeing, a lifetime of reading. Which sights, which people, which books, fictional characters, turns of phrase, and lines of verse will survive into the twilight? A dark-haired woman with a wistful expression? An ancestral house in the grasslands? The colors in translucent panes of glass, in marbles and goldfish and racing silks? Feeling an increasing urgency to put his mental landscape in order, the man sets to work cataloging this treasure, little knowing where his "report" will lead and what secrets will be brought to light. Border Districts is a jewel of a farewell from one of the greatest living writers of English prose.

30 review for Border Districts: A Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    Studies show (I'm being serious) that books that win big prizes sell far more copies after winning the prize, and also see a major dent in their critical reception, because people who would not otherwise be interested in the book start to read it and review on, e.g., goodreads. I've started to take account of this for myself, and I now try to avoid reading prize-winning books, even if everyone else is reading them, unless I know that I care about what the author is doing. I bring this up because Studies show (I'm being serious) that books that win big prizes sell far more copies after winning the prize, and also see a major dent in their critical reception, because people who would not otherwise be interested in the book start to read it and review on, e.g., goodreads. I've started to take account of this for myself, and I now try to avoid reading prize-winning books, even if everyone else is reading them, unless I know that I care about what the author is doing. I bring this up because this is quite literally Gerald Murnane's last book. It was very nice of FSG to publish this and his collected short fiction, and it was fun to see Murnane, of all people, in the pages of the New York Times, but it also means that more than a few people who have no interested in what Murnane is doing have read this book (of all the places to start!) and are now apparently complaining about how the writing is nice but it's 'stream of consciousness' and the narrator is easily distracted and why is he writing about light and stained glass, anyway? Two things to note: this is not stream of consciousness, it's just essayistic, first person narration. You can see that, because stream of consciousness doesn't use first person pronouns very much, and Murnane uses them all the time. SoC is meant to mimic the thoughts that flow through our heads; Murnane is reconstructing and writing, not trying to trick you into thinking you have direct access to his feelings. Stained glass is important because it is very common in churches (you don't say? But the key part is that you can't see stained glass from outside the church) and in early 20th century Australian homes (which are now thought of as wonderful little gems of this-worldly taste), and this is a book about being old and dying, and wondering what heaven might look like--although, of course, you can't see heaven from the outside. If that doesn't sound interesting to you, I recommend you not read the book. You'll be missing the final piece in one of the great literary careers of your lifetime--Murnane has expanded the Proustian vein of modernism in astonishing ways; his prose is unique and fascinating; his thinking is charming and odd and capacious. But for god's sake, please do not read it and then complain about it, loudly, online, because you don't care about or are not interested in what he's doing. Instead, start with one of his earlier books, and then come to this one a bit later.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Shortly after I finished my undergraduate degree, I watched a short film made about Gerald Murnane. Having studied in his ‘Innovations in Fiction Writing’ course at Victoria College (at least, I think it must have been called that, as I think most of the courses in the Professional Writing and Editing strand in my degree started with the words ‘innovations in’) I was keen to watch this film about him. I can’t remember if I went to see the film at a cinema with my ex-wife or if it was perhaps sho Shortly after I finished my undergraduate degree, I watched a short film made about Gerald Murnane. Having studied in his ‘Innovations in Fiction Writing’ course at Victoria College (at least, I think it must have been called that, as I think most of the courses in the Professional Writing and Editing strand in my degree started with the words ‘innovations in’) I was keen to watch this film about him. I can’t remember if I went to see the film at a cinema with my ex-wife or if it was perhaps shown on the ABC late one night. In fact, now that I think about it, I may have even seen it twice, a couple of years apart. All this was a lifetime ago - the lifetime of my oldest daughter who was born in the last year I ever saw Gerald Murnane. It was the year I walked across the stage to receive my degree while Gerald sat in his regalia on the stage. While I was waiting in the queue by the stage for my name to be called, I caught Gerald’s eye and we exchanged a smile. Except none of that is what I need to say. What I wanted to say was that in the film I watched all those years ago Gerald said that to write one of his books, the book called Tamarisk Row, he had to draw up a kind of map of the text. They showed that map in the film. It was drawn on what looked like a sheet of fullscape paper and consisted for a grid pattern that had tiny coloured drawings inside each square. Or at least, that is my memory of the page, which I guess I have only seen twice in 28 years and the last time over 20 years ago. After reading this book I could easily be convinced that the sheet of paper that mapped Tamarisk Row did not have multiple little drawings, arranged as a kind of storyboard you might used in constructing a film, but rather that it may well have had, say, 20 or 30 squares each containing non-representational shapes and particularly colours, or perhaps various mixtures of colours showing especially boundaries marked between distinct colours. This is a book where the narrator, which I take to be a version of Gerald Murnane, is trying to explain not merely how he believes his own memory works, but also the relation his memory holds to his emotional responses as they are caused by his memories which are, in turn triggered by seeing various hues and then variations in light and colour. If I had been writing this book, I would have needed to have used the word synesthesia at least once, as I think this is nearly what is happening here. We are begin presented by a kind of emotional synethesia of the memory world of the author. In his world, emotions have their own hue and the narrator has spent his lifetime believing that if somehow he could capture that hue or the tone of light associated with a particular memory, then the emotional power of that experience would return to him in full force. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this is especially true of memories linked, in various ways, to the experience of light he remembers that has passed through pieces of coloured glass at various times in his life, although, one should beware of the absolute literal in works of fiction. The overwhelming power that we experience where memories flood back to us seems, to me at least, more likely to be induced by our sense of smell than of sight. Reading Murnane, I find, is always an odd experience. Having known him and not really known him makes reading his work strange. For instance, in this book he discusses a lecturer and writer who had also taught me at Victoria College - oddly enough, one I mentioned recent in another review only a month or so ago. Prior to writing that review I had not thought of John Hanrahan for most of the quarter century since he taught me innovations in literary criticism in my undergraduate degree. John does not come out of this book particularly well - and since I’ve never read any of John’s fiction, I have to take Gerald’s word for its weaknesses. Murnane’s point is that Hanrahan wrote two kinds of fiction: either short fiction that was a bit cute - the story Murnane repeats in summary here has John as a young priest needing to urinate into a bottle of altar wine because he is too embarrassed to tell the woman showing him around the church that he needs to use the toilet - or that John wrote fiction that Murnane feels was basically a series of angry justifications (self-righteous justifications) setting out the reasons why he left the priesthood. Neither of these forms of fiction seem worthy for Murnane. Not least because they hide what fiction could rather be used to illuminate - that is, the images in the mind of a man who had fallen so much in love with their God that they at first dedicated themselves to the church, only to then have lost that love. What images might these have brought forth? Murnane never allows you to ignore the fact you are reading something crafted. He demands you think back to the last paragraph, or to a paragraph many pages before, where he had introduced a theme he now needs to return to. I remember him saying in class that one of the things he particularly liked to happen in a work of fiction was for the writer to be telling the reader a certain story and, in the middle of telling it, the writer discovers they have an overwhelming need to explain something else, to relate a kind of side story, something that can not wait and so need to be interposed within the narrative of the current story. In a sense, this book is an exercise in precisely that. On one level this is a book about the thoughts and feelings experienced by a writer as he sees light passing through the stain glass windows of a church he has never entered as he walks past it in the new town he currently lives in and expects to die in. This frames the narrative, although the second time this church is mentioned is about 100 pages after the first time - a significant digression, then, composed of the vast majority of the work. This interest in the effect of light passing through glass might not seem enough to hold the interest of a reader through an entire work of fiction - however, it leads to a remarkable series of reflections that unfold in intricate patterns and all of which are related to various aspects of Gerald Murnane’s obsessions: from coloured glass, to plains, horse racing, marbles and his highly personal theory of optics as a kind of life-metaphor. All of which have something interesting to say about the nature of memory as both a thing that happens to us and as something that we actively seek to recollect, reconstruct and reinterpret. A few years after I finished studying professional writing at the university where Murnane taught, and while I still imagined I might one day become a writer of fiction, I had a dream and in that dream he encouraged me write a short story about the racetrack that is located in the adjacent suburb to the one where I’ve lived most of my life. The racetrack itself appears in various stories Murnane has written over the years. As a child, shortly after I arrived in Australia, my uncle rented in church house a few streets from the race course and where Murnane would have attended many race meetings over this time. In fact, it is not impossible that he may have walked up the very street my uncle lived in with his wife and four children while they were still living there. As I said, the short story I wrote came to me in a dream. The house my uncle lived in was beside a laneway. That suburb has many laneways, whereas the suburb where I’ve spent most of my life has very few. That fact, and the very different street trees between the two suburbs make it immediately obvious which suburb you are in, almost as if a border had been drawn on a map. In the dream, I am playing in the garden of my uncle’s house with my cousin who is. closest in age to me, and who, like me, shares his own father’s name. While we were playing, Murnane put his head over the fence and said directly to me, ‘write about this house, write about the woman who died here’. I never have such vivid dreams, nor do I usually remember them in the morning. So, I wrote the story. I’m not sure Murnane would have approved of it - from memory it contained a series of improbabilities he would have frowned upon, much as, I guess, I now would too where I to find and reread it. But the parts of the story I liked most were those where I sought to capture how I remembered that house. And more, to capture a kind of portrait of what I think of now as the jokey character of my uncle who, although I don’t remember him ever telling me what would have been called in my family a ghost story (which was the central theme of my short story), since writing the story it does seem something he might have done, even if he never actually did. Like Murnane, I have not seen my uncle since that time, my daughter’s lifetime ago, even if I am less certain as to why that is the case. I assume there was some incident, a story that tore asunder our two families I’ve never been told. One of the windows that the narrator of this work of fiction, that I take to be Gerald Murnane himself, can’t recall and yet seeks to within the pages of the pages of this book, are those from his old Catholic high school. I mentioned earlier that Murnane’s and my life have curious intercepts. Although, really these are intercepts for me, rather than for him - since such are the gifts a reader receives from a writer. One of those is that my eldest daughter, the daughter whose life counts the years since the last time I saw Murnane, now lives in a flat across the road from the high school Murnane attended and which mentions without naming in this work of fiction. All of this makes it hard for me to recommend this book as I might recommend other books I read and enjoy. I can’t tell if my reading of this has been impacted by some of the things I feel I am able to see that other readers can not. And this is not terribly different from Murnane’s comment that the colours that illuminate past experiences and the emotions he associates with them, come as much from inside his own eyes (like lines of light emanating from him) as they do from the light as it shines upon the outside world and makes its way into his eyes. A lot of this book self-consciously explains to the reader what might be called the ‘games’ of literary fiction that the narrator is playing - in much the same way that a magician might tell you how they are performing a trick as it unfolds before you. But one of the things I’ve always loved about fiction is the kind of pairing that occurs throughout works. I love when an image occurs at one point of a story, only to reappear later in a way that casts new light upon that first image, both presenting a slightly distorted vision of the original, but also subtly transforming our memory of the previous occurrence too - shifting it slightly sideways along the spectrum. So that, in this work of fiction, a writer who once lived on the other side of a hill from where another and now died writer had lived and who had influenced or affected her, might now live close to the writer of this work of fiction who is in turn influenced in curious ways now by her. I used to write to Gerald Murnane - I used to enjoy the letters that he would write back very much. But I became obsessed with educational sociology and started my PhD and then the time between his last letter and the window where a reasonable response from me might have been expected got so narrow, as if curtains were being drawn, that I was too embarrassed to write again. I read this novel almost as one of those letters. Part of me assumes that this is a book people may not enjoy, that people might think is a book in which nothing happens - and yet this is a book overflowing with things to think about and to consider, a book that is powerfully moving. It is incredibly rare for anyone to be quite as honest about their inner thoughts and feelings as Murnane is. He has spent a lifetime drawing connections between powerful images and he returns to them again and again, but always in ways that seem new. Over the years people have told me they dislike his clear and clean sentences, that they struggle with his talk of horse races or are bored by his little boys playing with marbles or of grown men searching for their ideal racing colours for the horses that will run upon their dream race courses - and while none of these are obsessions I share, I could read him telling me about them more or less forever.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Does precisely what I most love books to do. What follows are the first couple of pages. Either this voice will entice and interest, or it will not. For me, it is the way in which such a text allows us to move along with another thinking mind, in a manner and direction our own thinking mind may not usually move, that makes it so valuable: "Two months ago, when I first arrived in this township just short of the border, I resolved to guard my eyes, and I could not think of going on with this piece Does precisely what I most love books to do. What follows are the first couple of pages. Either this voice will entice and interest, or it will not. For me, it is the way in which such a text allows us to move along with another thinking mind, in a manner and direction our own thinking mind may not usually move, that makes it so valuable: "Two months ago, when I first arrived in this township just short of the border, I resolved to guard my eyes, and I could not think of going on with this piece of writing unless I were to explain how I came by that odd expression. I got some of my schooling from a certain order of religious brothers, a band of men who dressed each in a black soutane with a bib of white celluloid at his throat. I learned by chance last year, and fifty years since I last saw anyone wearing such a thing, that the white bib was called a rabat and was a symbol of chastity. Among the few books that I brought here from the capital city is a large dictionary, but the word rabat is not listed in it. The word may well be French, given that the order of brothers was founded in France. In this remote district, I am even less inclined than I was in the suburbs of the capital city to seek out some or another obscure fact; here, near the border, I am even more inclined than of old to accept as well-founded any supposition likely to complete a pattern in my mind and then to go on writing until I learn the meaning for me of such an image as that of the white patch which appeared just now against a black ground at the edge of my mind and will not be easily dislodged. The school where the brothers taught was built in the grounds of what had been a two-story mansion of yellow sandstone in a street lined with plane trees in an inner eastern suburb of the capital city. The mansion itself had been converted into the brothers’ residence. On the ground floor of the former mansion, one of the rooms overlooking the return veranda was the chapel, which was used by the brothers for their daily Mass and prayers but was available also to us, their students. In the language of that place and time, a student who called at the ­chapel for a few minutes was said to be paying a visit. The object of his visitation was said to be Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament or, more commonly, the Blessed Sacrament. We boys were urged by teachers and priests to pay frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. It was implied that the personage denoted by that phrase would feel aggrieved or lonely if visitors were lacking. My class once heard from a religious brother one of a sort of story that was often told in order to promote our religious zeal. A non-Catholic of goodwill had asked a priest to explain the teachings of the Church in the matter of the Blessed Sacrament. The priest then explained how every disk of consecrated bread in every tabernacle in every Catholic church or chapel, even though it appeared to be mere bread, was in substance the body of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The inquirer of goodwill then declared that if only he were able to believe this, he would spend every free moment in some or another Catholic church or chapel, in the presence of the divine manifestation. In our school magazine every year, in his annual report to parents, our principal wrote at length about what he called the religious formation of us boys. In every classroom, the first period of every day was given over to Christian Doctrine, or religion, as we more often called it. Students recited aloud together a short prayer before every period of the daily timetable. I ­believed that most of my classmates took their religion seriously, but I seldom heard any boy make any mention, outside the classroom, of anything to do with that religion. The chapel was out of sight of the playground, and so I was never aware of how many of my classmates paid visits there. However, I went through several periods of religious fervor during my school days, and during each such period I paid several visits daily to the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes I saw one or another of my classmates in the chapel, kneeling as I knelt with head bowed or eyes fixed on the locked tabernacle, within which, and out of our sight, was the gold-plated ciborium filled with the white wafers that we thought of as the Blessed Sacrament. I was never satisfied with my attempts to pray or to contemplate, and I often wondered what exactly was taking place in the mind of my devout-seeming classmate. I would have liked to ask him what he seemed to see while he prayed; how he envisaged the divine or canonized personages that he addressed in his mind, and much else. Sometimes, by chance, a classmate and I would leave the chapel at the same time and would walk together along the return veranda and then through the brothers’ garden towards the playground, but for me to have questioned the boy then about his devotions would have been hardly less disturbing than if I had made him an indecent proposition. In the quiet street where I now live is a tiny church that I pass every weekday morning on my walk to the shops and the post office. The church belongs to one of the Protestant denominations that I pitied as a schoolboy on account of the drabness of their services, which consisted, I supposed, of mere hymns and sermons and none of the splendid rituals enacted in my own church. Whenever I pass, the grass around my neighborhood church is always neatly mown but the church itself is closed and deserted. I must have passed countless Protestant churches in suburbs or in country towns and scarcely glanced at them, and yet I can never pass the nearby church without my thoughts being led in surprising directions. I have always believed myself to be indifferent to architecture. I hardly know what a gable is or a nave or a vault or a vestry. I would describe my neighborhood church as a symmetrical building comprising three parts: a porch, a main part, and, at the furthest end from the street, a third part surely reserved for the minister before and after services. The walls are of stone painted—or is the correct term rendered?—a uniform creamy white. I am so unobservant of such details that I cannot recall, here at my desk, whether the pitched roofs of the porch and the main part are of slate or of steel. The rear part has an almost flat steel roof. The windows aren’t of much interest to me, except for the two rectangular windows of clear glass, each with a drawn blind behind it, in the rear wall of the minister’s room. The main part of the church has six small windows, three on each side. The glass in each of these windows is translucent. If I could inspect it from close at hand, the glass might well seem no different from the sort that I learned to call as a child frosted and saw often in bathroom windows. The glass in the six windows is by no means colorless, but I have not yet identified the shade or tint that distinguishes it. On some mornings when I pass, the glass in question seems an unexceptional gray green or, perhaps, gray blue. Once, however, when I happened to pass the church in the late afternoon, and when I looked over my shoulder at a window on the shaded, southeastern side of the building, I saw the glass there colored not directly by the setting sun but by a light that I was prevented from seeing: the glow within the locked church where the rays from the west had already been modified by the three windows on the side further from me. Even if I could have devised a name for the wavering richness that I saw then in that simple pane, I would have had to set about devising soon afterwards a different name for the subtly different tint in each of its two neighboring panes, where the already muted light from one and the same sunset had been separately refracted. The porch has one window, which looks towards the street. This is the window that mostly takes my notice as I pass and may well have been the cause of my setting out to write these pages. The glass in this window is what I have always called stained glass and almost certainly comprises a representation of something—a ­pattern of leaves and stems and petals perhaps. I prefer not to draw attention to myself when I walk in the township, and I have not yet been bold enough to stop and stare at the porch window. I am unsure not only of what is depicted there but even of the colors of the different zones of glass, although I suppose they are red and green and yellow and blue or most of those. The outer door of the church is always closed when I pass, and the door from the porch to the church is surely also closed. Since the tinted window faces northeast, the near side of the glass is always in bright daylight while the far side is opposed only to the subdued light of the enclosed porch. Anyone looking from my well-lit vantage point can only guess at the colors of the glass and the details of what they depict."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Vivian

    Unpopular opinion time. Guard eyes while in town. Underdeveloped. Confluence of unwoven themes in a stream of consciousness format that bores the reader with repeated instances of "I never took any interest" and "While I was writing the previous paragraph". There are repeated themes of stain glass, horses, females, anti-Protestantism as the author struggles with his faith. He espouses a belief in the humble and now, but a longing for wealth and mythic past. Reminds me of a nostalgic collective un Unpopular opinion time. Guard eyes while in town. Underdeveloped. Confluence of unwoven themes in a stream of consciousness format that bores the reader with repeated instances of "I never took any interest" and "While I was writing the previous paragraph". There are repeated themes of stain glass, horses, females, anti-Protestantism as the author struggles with his faith. He espouses a belief in the humble and now, but a longing for wealth and mythic past. Reminds me of a nostalgic collective unconscious memory; the weaving of it is very starkly presented. I feel that this speaks to a narrow audience: white, Gaelic/British heritage, and Catholic, which considering the author's Australian roots is not surprising, but it feels rather alienating and exclusive. I just wished that explorations of color and light had been better executed because there's an intriguing circling of the subjects. Feels more like a flushed book outline than a finished book. There is an idea of something substantive, but it's never realized and that's disappointing. My favorite part was in the closing, a quote by Percy Bysshe Shelley: Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vivek Tejuja

    Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written. “Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written. “Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head. Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was. “Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    Gerald Murnane is one of the greatest Australian writers ever. This is supposedly his last book and it's very much in line with his last few since his late renaissance. It's a meditative reflection on the nature of literature and a sort of stream-of-consciousness trip through the narrator's memory. I wouldn't recommend it as a place to start with Murnane's writing, but what a wonderful place to finish.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    First, I feel a fool for not having read Gerald Murnane before now, for not even knowing who he was. True, somewhere over the last few years I remember reading of an eccentric Australian who’d won a literary prize that stipulated part of the prize money would be spent on international travel. The winner refused, instead reciting all the addresses where he’d once lived, all confined to a relatively small area. I didn’t realize until tonight, after finishing Border Districts and reading some revie First, I feel a fool for not having read Gerald Murnane before now, for not even knowing who he was. True, somewhere over the last few years I remember reading of an eccentric Australian who’d won a literary prize that stipulated part of the prize money would be spent on international travel. The winner refused, instead reciting all the addresses where he’d once lived, all confined to a relatively small area. I didn’t realize until tonight, after finishing Border Districts and reading some reviews, that this author was Murnane. But I feel a lucky fool. The last time I felt like this (or so I imagine) was when I first picked up The Rings of Saturn and wondered what exactly I was reading – then was slowly disarmed, enchanted and drawn into the author’s meditation, an author confident enough to break the rules of fiction writing and invent something that obviously pleased and probably amused him. Here’s the first sentence.Two months ago, when I first arrived in this township just short of the border, I resolved to guard my eyes, and I could not think of going on with this piece of writing unless I were to explain how I came by that odd expression.Of course I had to know. Within a few paragraphs we discover a man in late middle age who has retreated, who seems to have always been retreating, from the world around him, his imagination caught by colors, particulary the colored light cast by stained glass. Something quite banal is suddenly luminous, pulsing with intimations that call to mind (deliberately, I assume) Proust’s rapture over that “tiny patch of yellow wall” in Vermeer’s “View of Delft.” The pressing reason the writer must “guard his eyes” is to capture such intimations before they evanescence.I moved to this district near the border so that I could spend most of my time alone and so that I could live according to several rules that I had for long wanted to live by. I mentioned earlier that I guard my eyes. I do this so that I might be more alert to what appears at the edges of my range of vision; so that I might notice at once any sight so much in need of my inspection that one or more of its details seems to quiver or to be agitated until I have the illusion that I am being signaled or winked at. Another rule requires me to record whatever sequences of images occur to me after I have turned my attention to the signaling or winking detail.Notice the contradiction: this secular mysticism is anchored in what he acknowledges as illusion. This is all from the first few pages. This tense, humorous, depressed, often deliberately awkward seriousness persists to the end, to a final small epiphany. One of the recurring jokes (or is it? Maybe it’s something more profound) is the way the writer repeatedly refers to what he was just written, and the random thought that occurred to him as he was writing. “Today, while I was writing the previous paragraphs…” It’s a short book, I never got tired of it, I always wanted to know what “mental image” had manifested itself as he was writing the sentence before. I’ve mentioned Proust and Sebald. Teju Cole compares him to Beckett. This is one way readers honor writers. Reportedly this is Murnane’s final novel. I don’t know what his other work is like, but I’ve just ordered Stream System. I feel lucky.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Like watching paint dry—but as the paint sets into the surface, you see every minute change in its viscosity, each microscopic shift in hue, the way errant drops slide down, creep to a stop, and solidify in their trails. If you stare at something for long enough, the phantom details emerge.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Hobson

    I found it hard to enjoy Border Districts, but at the same time I couldn't help but admire the quality of the prose. The book has been shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin award - Australia's premiere literary prize. It is Murnane's first nomination in his 44 year career, and one critic unkindly called him "the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of". Murnane is well known for his reluctance to travel. We find his novels have a very local setting. In this boo I found it hard to enjoy Border Districts, but at the same time I couldn't help but admire the quality of the prose. The book has been shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin award - Australia's premiere literary prize. It is Murnane's first nomination in his 44 year career, and one critic unkindly called him "the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of". Murnane is well known for his reluctance to travel. We find his novels have a very local setting. In this book he constantly reminds us of his narrow horizons with phrases such as "in the northern suburbs of the capital city" or "when I first arrived in this township just short of the border," he will never mention the name of the suburb, the city or the township, even if he obliquely talks of them often. My only other experience of his work is the novel 'A Million Windows' from 2014. I had a similar reaction, unsure whether I was reading fiction, biography or just stream of consciousness. Border Districts feels like a continuation of where that book left off, like the author just stepped outside for a cigarette and is now back to pick up the threads of the story. At one point Murnane says "I have never travelled more than a day's journey by road or rail from my birthplace." I think this is what makes his voice uniquely Australian, given how many others from that continent are keen to travel the world, undertake their OE as they call it (Overseas Experience). Murnane is content to live life vicariously through other people's books and experiences. He constantly overlays his own preoccupations onto other places - his time spent training within the church, his love of horse racing and of literature. The theme of coloured glass recurs often in the book, beginning with English history when during the 1650s men travelled the country smashing stained glass windows in churches by standing on ladders with staves and axes and breaking them inwards. We consider what happened to the broken shards, were they gathered up to be reused or were they stolen by children to be held up to the light? Painted glass fragments reoccur in the windows of houses in which Murnane stays during his lifetime. There are a whole series of recollections, each leading onto another, where the author recalls a biography of the writer George Gissing, but more particularly the black and white photo of the woman who wrote the book which fills the back cover and the unusual fall of the light on her face. This leads him to recall the marbles he has collected since his childhood, the first gift of marbles he was given, then a kaleidoscope with a marble in it, taking him on to the set of coloured pencils he bought many years before and which he keeps in jars near his desk. From there we stray into the stories of the coloured hats and shirts worn by jockeys in both Australia and England matching colours and patterns to owners and families, and so we continue to ramble. There are no breaks in the narrative, no page breaks or chapter headings, and often we will hear the phrase "as I said in a previous paragraph", all of which give the book the quality of a stream of consciousness. Nine pages from the end of the book we suddenly jump back to a story from the beginning which was left unfinished, and needed more elaboration. It has taken a hundred pages to get to the point of the story. Such features make me wonder if this is really great literature or simply the rambling of a slightly incoherent mind.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marc Nash

    A man ( a writer) is looking back on his memories, arranging them you might say like photos in an album. So far so bog standard and the opening is about his education in a Catholic school being taught by Priests and Brothers. Lots of unfamiliar words for artefacts used in liturgy, such as ciborium, monstrance which is all i think I'm going to get from this novel, juxtaposed with words specific to Australia such as 'rosella' (an Australian breed of parakeet). But then the novel takes off in a who A man ( a writer) is looking back on his memories, arranging them you might say like photos in an album. So far so bog standard and the opening is about his education in a Catholic school being taught by Priests and Brothers. Lots of unfamiliar words for artefacts used in liturgy, such as ciborium, monstrance which is all i think I'm going to get from this novel, juxtaposed with words specific to Australia such as 'rosella' (an Australian breed of parakeet). But then the novel takes off in a whole new meditative direction as the narrator ditches his Catholic indoctrination, because he abhors abstractions and everything he has been taught about religion cannot be proved materially and so can only ever remain an abstraction. And that is the course for the rest of the book, an inquiry into the material base of memory. He is obsessed with the visual quality of things, not to preserve an experience, but to try and get back to the state of mind or mood felt at that particular time. He is cropping his memories, for the visual cue that seared them in his mind. So lots of meditations on coloured glass (the only vestige he takes from Catholicism being stained glass), of the coloured vanes in marbles and the coloured patterns viewed in kaleidoscopes. In his search, part forensic, part filagree work or needlepoint, he reconstructs the exact moment when he used past images and impressions to further refract more recent memories. He is trying to unpick the distortions of time and anachronism and does so almost by tracing every single neuronal pathway that constructed the multi-layered thing that is any single memory. To follow this as the reader is both intimate and voyeuristic. Though it recalls Robbe-Grillet and early Nicholson Baker in its forensic eye, here it is about memory rather than tech as with Baker, or psychological realism as with Grillet. There's a brilliant image where he turns on the radio to tune into a horse race, but the signal is from far away and it's largely overridden (his word not mine) by a discussion between two women, one of whom is an author. This seems to perfectly indicate what Murnane is doing here, trying but ultimately unable to sieve for pure memory at its source, always interfered with by more recent accretions, submerging his memory as a buried palimpsest. His own obsessions mean that when the female author talks of a writing retreat she runs, he imagines not only the residential house in which it takes place (based not on anything she says, but his own projections of buildings from his memory collection) and also begins to draw up rules for how the two sexes will interact, or rather be kept separate so that the writing will be the thing in focus at all times. It's not his writing retreat, it's hers! The woman writer also talks about the quiet period at the start of any Quaker session as they try and enter the spirit of the sacred by letting all worldly issues fall away and the male protagonist skits from this idea to Buddhist meditation and imagines that it must be nice to have all mental imagery vacate to leave 'pure mind' which is what he has been struggling for all his life. To see what the mind is composed of. But he cannot empty his mind of its memories and visual prompts. Similarly he 'fails' in reading fiction, because the prompts and suggestions of the fiction authors set off a concatenation of images and associations from his own mind that he can never get past. This is a character verging on solipsism. While absolutely intriguing and engrossing, I did feel it to be utterly subjective and personal and intimate to the author, which kept me at arm's length. These images played over and over again in his head and then without as he dissected them, were his images and not necessarily mine. I could relate to some, not to others, but each and every one felt like I was trespassing. that's the only reason I knocked a star off. However I do suspect that all his novels are like this so it's unlikely that I would read another one (unlike David Markson's literary schtick which sucks me in time and again to revel in it, Murnane's schtick here is just a little too distancing). Still, for me a worthwhile reading experience, but I would be a little wary in recommending him to any of you, in case you never forgive me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Schreiber

    A rich metafictional meditation on perception, memory, reading and writing. I will write more as I process the experience. A longer review can be found here: https://roughghosts.com/2018/04/04/no...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tonymess

    Profound exploration of mental images, revisiting a life, memories, experiences & the resulting images. A simple life explored through the machinations of time, place & recollections. Not many books written like this anymore. The Aussie, Western Districts Proust?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kimbofo

    For a slight book, Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts: A Fiction packs a very large punch. Well, not so much a punch, but a tickling of the grey matter, for this is a novel — supposedly Murnane’s last (he’s 79) — that makes you see the world in new ways and makes you reflect on concepts you may never have thought of before. Billed as fiction, the story mirrors Murnane’s real life move from Melbourne to a provincial town on the border between Victoria and South Australia and the impact of that shif For a slight book, Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts: A Fiction packs a very large punch. Well, not so much a punch, but a tickling of the grey matter, for this is a novel — supposedly Murnane’s last (he’s 79) — that makes you see the world in new ways and makes you reflect on concepts you may never have thought of before. Billed as fiction, the story mirrors Murnane’s real life move from Melbourne to a provincial town on the border between Victoria and South Australia and the impact of that shift on his interior life. Written stream-of-consciousness style and employing some of the devices of meta-fiction, Border Districts is the type of novel that could be labelled “experimental” — it certainly doesn’t comply with the normal conventions of the literary novel, blurring the lines between fiction, non-fiction and reportage. Indeed, the story is written as if it is a report and the (nameless) author of the report keeps reminding us of this fact. To read the rest of my review, please visit my blog.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Seth Nolan

    Murnane’s style is proof of the existence of the unconscious mind. He refines it to a simple and chiseled language and proves that it’s there. And what’s interesting is, I read once that he doesn’t buy it. If you weren’t raised Catholic, don’t like horse racing or aren’t intrigued by stained glass that’s OK ... because what those are really about in this book is the unreliability of memory and how the unconscious mind can repair what’s missing from it with “mind-images” and link an entire life i Murnane’s style is proof of the existence of the unconscious mind. He refines it to a simple and chiseled language and proves that it’s there. And what’s interesting is, I read once that he doesn’t buy it. If you weren’t raised Catholic, don’t like horse racing or aren’t intrigued by stained glass that’s OK ... because what those are really about in this book is the unreliability of memory and how the unconscious mind can repair what’s missing from it with “mind-images” and link an entire life into one line of best and comforting fit. If anything, I’ll never look at stained glass the same again ... or any mental image I even for a moment think is important.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark William

    I'm on the Murnane train. Western District willy willies ahead. He'll be a perfect accompaniment to the McElroy complete read through.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Griflet

    Not in the mood for Proustian fiction. Will come back another time. Murnane is worthy of everyone's time but you do sometimes need to be in the mood for him :) B.R.C.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    This book is messy. It’s not very exciting, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. Many reviews have called this a novel, but I’m not sure I think of it that way. Despite its title, Border Districts: A Fiction straddles the line between the fictional and the actual, and the work comes across as a long rumination on the nature of fiction, imagination and memory rather than a story with characters and a plot. The only other work by Murnane that I’ve read is The Plains. While both that work and Border This book is messy. It’s not very exciting, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. Many reviews have called this a novel, but I’m not sure I think of it that way. Despite its title, Border Districts: A Fiction straddles the line between the fictional and the actual, and the work comes across as a long rumination on the nature of fiction, imagination and memory rather than a story with characters and a plot. The only other work by Murnane that I’ve read is The Plains. While both that work and Border Districts simultaneously explore the Australian interior, the narrators’ interiority and Murnane’s characteristic love of color, the similarity ends there. Border Districts reminds me of the works of Marcel Proust and W. G. Sebald in that it very closely mirrors Murnane’s own life to an extent that the reader must ask what is fiction and what is autobiography. The narrator repeatedly reminds us that: A writer of fiction reports events that he or she considers imaginary. The reader of the fiction considers, or pretends to consider, the events actual. This piece of writing is a report of actual events only, even though many of the reported events may seem to an undiscerning reader fictional. By that definition, Murnane’s narrator creates many fictions from his memories and imaginings. In one instance, the narrator stays with an old friend in the city. He sleeps in a bedroom that previously belonged to the friend’s aunt, who was in love with a young soldier who died at Gallipoli in World War I. After his death, she never married, but the narrator imagines an alternate course of events in which the young soldier lived and married the aunt. In this “fiction,” they move to a small rural town where the narrator grew up and their daughter becomes the narrator’s childhood friend. The book is full of these sorts of imagined realities as well as faulty memories. The narrator prides himself on his flawed memory and for much of the work abstains from using computers to easily access information which he deems unworthy of remembering. When the narrator repeatedly draws attention to forgotten names and details in his memories, it casts a shadow of the unknown over the entire work, which makes it seem that Murnane’s narrator speaks with an uncertain voice rather than an authoritative one. Again and again, it seems like Border Districts is trying to undermine the reader’s idea of textual authority. The book is seemingly written as a single train of thought without any chapter or section breaks, and yet the narrator repeatedly interrupts himself to say “After I had written the previous paragraph, I” reflected on what something and now think about it differently. On other occasions he informs the reader that days or weeks have passed since he wrote the previous paragraph. This draws attention to the facts of the text’s creation. A book is not written from the first to the last page. In actuality, a writer goes back, reflects on what they’ve written and revises. Writers stop and start many times in the process, and yet the finished product creates the illusion of a continuous narrative or stream of thought. However, Murnane’s book is not interested in such illusions. Toward the book’s end, the narrator briefly recalls a encounter he had with his landlord’s computer. He discovers all sorts of interesting facts and finally discovers the answer to question he earlier wondered about. Yet the list of facts he discovers isn’t nearly as satisfying as his long trains of thought, digressions and remembrances. What makes Border Districts stand out is that it embraces our inability to remember perfectly. At one point, the narrator tries to recall a passage from Proust about why readers feel so deeply for fictional characters. He then wants to check his memory against Proust’s text. He doesn’t find it. In an age when computers make it so easy for us to never wonder about anything, he could easily Google it. Instead, he says “I will look again in the future for [Proust’s] statement, but in the meanwhile I am not at all put out. Marcel Proust may have had his explanation, but I now have my own explanation.”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dax

    Murnane has reached the twilight of his life and, as many older men have a tendency to do, wants to enjoy his remaining years reflecting on a long life lived. In "Border Districts," Murnane focuses on memory and lasting images. He calls this a work of fiction because "How could I have begun to tell what I truly felt when even today, more than sixty years later, I labour over these sentences, trying to report what was more an intimation of a state of mind than an actual experience?" But this is no Murnane has reached the twilight of his life and, as many older men have a tendency to do, wants to enjoy his remaining years reflecting on a long life lived. In "Border Districts," Murnane focuses on memory and lasting images. He calls this a work of fiction because "How could I have begun to tell what I truly felt when even today, more than sixty years later, I labour over these sentences, trying to report what was more an intimation of a state of mind than an actual experience?" But this is not a work of fiction in the traditional sense. The author himself refers to it numerous times as a report, so that is what I am going to call it as well. Much of this report focuses on stained glass and light. For the life of me, I can't quite put my finger on why the author has decided to focus on this particular aspect of his memories and, frankly, it makes for a boring read. I like the idea of sharing your lasting images of your memory with your readers, but while the significance of those images might be of interest to the man doing the remembering, it is difficult for an outsider to care, especially when most of those images center on stained glass. Murnane has a great literary reputation, and there were passages that in "Border Districts" that illustrated the talent that has made him a famous author. I want to read some of his fiction, particularly "The Plains." But as for his supposedly final offering, it is merely okay.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alena

    I’m not quite sure what to say about this book...it’s not a novel. It’s more like the stream of consciousness of a smart, but easily distracted, old gentlemen. I enjoyed it the same way I would enjoy getting to know a stranger at a train stop. Very strange.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lesley Moseley

    DNF, really barely got going. Too convaluted , streaming of barely concious, conciousness..

  21. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Very confusing stream of consciousness narrative. Meandering with little plot. Difficult to maintain any interest. Read about 80% of this short "novel" before I quit it. Better things to do with my time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lin

    A slow ,complex read without a recognisable plot and a lack of characterisation. Murnane does not name his characters other than in a vague reference for example the ‘so-called aunt’ or the ‘remembering man’. The book is a series of memories or thoughts often based on the narrators pre occupation with the colours in stained glass, the names of colours and also the colours in racing silks. He also ruminates on religious icons and the mystical naturalism books he read as a boy. As a series of thou A slow ,complex read without a recognisable plot and a lack of characterisation. Murnane does not name his characters other than in a vague reference for example the ‘so-called aunt’ or the ‘remembering man’. The book is a series of memories or thoughts often based on the narrators pre occupation with the colours in stained glass, the names of colours and also the colours in racing silks. He also ruminates on religious icons and the mystical naturalism books he read as a boy. As a series of thoughts and images remembered by the narrator I would have expected the writing to be more poetic but it is actually quite factual even prosaic. He constantly refers to what he has written before in ‘in the last paragraphs’ and describes his writing as ‘a report’. Having said this, I did finish it. I found myself continuing to read because I had no idea where it was going which made it strangely compelling. I was intrigued by the writing style and will certainly be looking to read one of Murnane’s award winning earlier works. If you are looking for a story with distinct characters and plot this is not for you. The challenge is to not have expectations, to allow the writing to carry you along from one image to the next and not try to always make sense of what follows.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rosalie

    Border Districts is a book about thinking and reality and reminiscing and imagination. It is an enjoyable book to read slowly and enjoy Murnane’s whacky humour such as when he tries meditation on page 139 “I tried to empty my mind of the pictorial imagery and the snatches of songs or melodies that comprised its usual contents. If I could perform this task…I would find myself in the presence of my mind alone, and I was curious t learn what would be the appearance of my mind devoid of contents: wh Border Districts is a book about thinking and reality and reminiscing and imagination. It is an enjoyable book to read slowly and enjoy Murnane’s whacky humour such as when he tries meditation on page 139 “I tried to empty my mind of the pictorial imagery and the snatches of songs or melodies that comprised its usual contents. If I could perform this task…I would find myself in the presence of my mind alone, and I was curious t learn what would be the appearance of my mind devoid of contents: what my mind would prove ultimately to be composed of. I never succeeded in emptying my mind...The utmost region of my mind was a vast district of image-racecourses derived mostly from images of places I had never seen” I chose this book for several reasons. Firstly, it is short listed for the 2018 Miles Franklin award, secondly the author/recluse/eccentric Murnane, is getting a lot of publicity and reviews in Australia as well as overseas, thirdly there are whisperings that he is a contender for the Nobel Prize (why him) and finally because his name is vaguely familiar and yet I couldn’t remember anything about him. Border Districts is published as fiction but there are some parallels between the main character and the author. Like his main character, Murnane now lives in a town near the border between Victoria and South Australia, he desires to live alone, appreciates residing in the smaller location and is unwilling to travel far or go by plane. By living alone, his main protagonist is able to completely control his movements, observations, interactions, reflections, and memories while avoiding being side tracked or distracted. On the first page of Border Districts, his character states that it is two months since he moved into the township and made his resolution to “guard his eyes” which is further explained on page 86 to mean keeping his eyes fixed ahead and by avoiding the distractions of what he might see in his peripheral vision he can occupy himself with his “memories or reveries.” The term “guard eyes” (to avoid temptation) also recurs when he mentions a young priest who had written “guard eyes in town” on a prayer card page 158. I was intrigued by the character’s circumscribed perspective which I found difficult to relate to, I did however initially connect with some of his mind games because when I drive for several hours by myself I often reminisce and fabricate past possibilities. Border Districts however is complicated. Is this a book or a report or a memoir or a possibility of what a person might remember or what that person might have done in another possible life? Within Border Districts, his character contradicts himself – saying at least once that what he just wrote in the previous paragraph was for his personal files. He writes stories within pretend stories, is side-tracked by coloured glass windows (the inside and outside differences), the colour nuances of marbles and two-story sandstone buildings which remind him of other places, people and experiences both actual and imaginary. His preoccupation with colour is also replicated when his focus returns to horse races and racing colours. His character is so obsessive and self-centred it is a wonder that his first girlfriend, when he was eighteen years old, lasted two months! Yet again his depictions are tantalising – I especially liked his description of his capability to purchase (once his children had left home) a complete set of coloured pencils – not to use – but to sort and rearrange by hue and colour. The artist in me, who likes to collect paint colour-charts could visualise the delight in this touching and sorting of the beautiful pencils. I also appreciated his delightful wordplay and funny annotations as Murnane’s opinions leach out through his character while he describes arduously what he sees or feels. For example, “my first sight of the window in the porch of my neighbourhood church caused me to feel a slight resentment that a Protestant sect founded not even three centuries ago should ornament their simple place of worship in the style of the church that had lasted for nearly two millennia before the beginnings of their upstart faction.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    And you thought Vegemite was the only bad thing out of Australia. I so wanted to like this book. It’s a rambling stream of consciousness on memory and light and God knows what else. Horrendous run-on sentences that leave the reader with a WTF feeling. Yet I persisted as it’s only 132 pages and I had bought the book. Like the TV comedy Seinfeld it’s about nothing in a sense. Indeed Murnane in an article considers writers who can write about nothing as the masters of their craft. It blurs the lines And you thought Vegemite was the only bad thing out of Australia. I so wanted to like this book. It’s a rambling stream of consciousness on memory and light and God knows what else. Horrendous run-on sentences that leave the reader with a WTF feeling. Yet I persisted as it’s only 132 pages and I had bought the book. Like the TV comedy Seinfeld it’s about nothing in a sense. Indeed Murnane in an article considers writers who can write about nothing as the masters of their craft. It blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Creative writing gone wild. I watched some YouTube videos of the author and read some articles about his escape to the rural countryside of Victoria. He has never flown in a plane. He has never left Victoria or the ACT-Canberra. Pretty amazing. Wonder what Anthony Bourdain would say about that. This is allegedly his last book, a farewell, but he also has another book out this year too. Lots of buzz about a Nobel Prize in literature for him.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tundra

    Once again Murnane throws me into a bit of a spin. I think the difficulty with his writing is that as a work of fiction I’m comparing it to other novels. On reflection I think it would be better to describe it as a fictional essay. If doesn’t really have a plot so you don’t feel like you are going anywhere, rather it is an intense examination and reflection of the protagonist’s (or author’s?) metacognition. With great skill Murnane is able to describe his thinking and then share these moments th Once again Murnane throws me into a bit of a spin. I think the difficulty with his writing is that as a work of fiction I’m comparing it to other novels. On reflection I think it would be better to describe it as a fictional essay. If doesn’t really have a plot so you don’t feel like you are going anywhere, rather it is an intense examination and reflection of the protagonist’s (or author’s?) metacognition. With great skill Murnane is able to describe his thinking and then share these moments that are very much like synapses in the human brain. They are the moments where you leap in another direction. His fascination with coloured glass in all its forms, and how it appears differently depending on which side you look at it from or who is looking at it, is a thoughtful analogy to explain how our world view and memories are shaped. This is an interesting read but not an easy book to digest. I’m glad I made the effort.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthias

    "The mind is a place best viewed from borderlands." The book begins with the narrator cautiously staking out with precise prose his certainties. How far will he dare to enter the less certain, the spiritual? This approach reminded me of Hans Blumenberg's spectacular dissection of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion - he also begins with a walk along the horizon. But I digress. Murnane's introspection is is poetic evocation of one's life's essence. Highly recommended to anybody on their ow "The mind is a place best viewed from borderlands." The book begins with the narrator cautiously staking out with precise prose his certainties. How far will he dare to enter the less certain, the spiritual? This approach reminded me of Hans Blumenberg's spectacular dissection of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion - he also begins with a walk along the horizon. But I digress. Murnane's introspection is is poetic evocation of one's life's essence. Highly recommended to anybody on their own way to the border districts.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Peter Anderson

    "Guard eyes while in town." A report on Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Nearly three quarters of the way through this book we are told "My writing this report is no violation of my long-standing policy. These pages are intended only for my files. "My" being a first-person character, male and probably in his late sixties or early seventies (like your current report writer) to whom we never formally introduced. But we spend a bit over 100 pages meandering backwards and forwards over the images o "Guard eyes while in town." A report on Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Nearly three quarters of the way through this book we are told "My writing this report is no violation of my long-standing policy. These pages are intended only for my files. "My" being a first-person character, male and probably in his late sixties or early seventies (like your current report writer) to whom we never formally introduced. But we spend a bit over 100 pages meandering backwards and forwards over the images of his life - neat eh? This is not a normal book review, but then I didn't find this to be a normal work of fiction. It is, however, one of the more interesting works I've read in a long time. Much of our narrator's life has parallels with my own and because it's my review I've taken the liberty to do a little rambling of my own. Stop reading now if you're not interested. On his schooling by (probably) the Christian Brothers: "I got some of my schooling from a certain order of religious brothers, a band of men who dressed each in a black soutane with a bib of white celluloid at his throat. I learned by chance last year, and fifty years since I last saw anyone wearing such a thing, that the white bib was called a rabat and was a symbol of chastity." "In the language of that place and time, a student who called at the chapel for a few minutes was said to be paying a visit. The object of his visitation was said to be Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament or, more commonly, the Blessed Sacrament. We boys were urged by teachers and priests to pay frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. It was implied that the personage denoted by that phrase would feel aggrieved or lonely if visitors were lacking." "I believed that most of my classmates took their religion seriously, but I seldom heard any boy make any mention, outside the classroom, of anything to do with that religion." "... I went through several periods of religious fervour during my schooldays, and during each such period I paid several visits daily to the Blessed Sacrament. ...I was never satisfied with my attempts to pray or to contemplate, and I often wondered what exactly was taking place in the mind of my devout-seeming classmate. I would have liked to ask him what he seemed to see while he prayed; how he envisaged the divine or canonised personages that he addressed in his mind, and much else. ...but for me to have questioned the boy then about his devotions would have been hardly less disturbing than if I had made him an indecent proposition." On the smashing g of stained glass church windows in England: "I would have considered that the glassless windows were no less than the traitorous Protestants deserved. The empty window-spaces would have suggested to me the sightless eyes of a people blind to the truth." Is he talking about @TonyAbbottMHRm "I have long subscribed to a simple explanation for the defection of so many priests and religious from what might be called my own generation. I can allow that the first daring few might have been pioneers of a sort, devisers of original moral issues, but those who came after them were mere followers of fashion. Once having learned from the example of their more daring fellows that so-called solemn vows could be set aside or broken at no great cost, they who had once sworn to be chaste and obedient set about indulging their restlessness or curiosity." My own mother was never religious but insisted that my brother and I be brought up Catholic and attend Catholic schools. Most other mothers, I assumed, were, to my shame, much more religious; like: "a middle-aged woman of a kind once common in Catholic parishes. Holy-water hens they were sometimes called." On pedophile priests: "...the persons who had once respected him or been in awe of him would have been reading in newspapers the first of many accounts that they would read of priests found guilty at law of deeds ... How many of those who read such reports decided at once, or after much reflection, that they no longer considered sacred some of the persons, places, and things that they had previously deemed so." This is an issue I am having reading this book: "Whenever I tried long ago to learn from books about the workings of minds, I was equally troubled whether I read fiction or non-fiction. In the same way that I struggled and failed to follow plots and to comprehend the motives of characters, so did I struggle to follow arguments and to understand concepts. I failed as a reader of fiction because I was constantly engaged not with the seeming subject-matter of the text but with the doings of personages who appeared to me while I tried to read and with the scenery that appeared around them. My image-world was often only slightly connected with the text in front of my eyes; anyone privy to my seeming-sights might have supposed I was reading some barely recognisable variant of the text, a sort of apocrypha of the published work." But I don't expect it to get in the way of me finishing this unusual work! On the loss of his "faith": "From the day when the loss took place (and it did indeed happen within a single day) I possessed a host of mental images that were no longer of use to me. I had previously considered these images the nearest available likenesses of personages by definition invisible to me. I could never have prayed if I had not been able to bring the images to mind. Now, they were of no account: mere images corresponding to nothing in any world of other-than-images. ... Chief among these now-useless possessions was my image of the so-called Blessed Trinity, the creator and sustainer of the universe, who was one indivisible divinity but nevertheless comprised three persons. (No phrase or sentence hereabouts is intended to mock.) I had never succeeded in fixing in mind an image of this tripartite being: I had mostly to be satisfied with seeing each person as the occupant of his own seat on a throne designed for three." This is a story I, and I'm quite sure many of you, can relate to! Where were these guys? In a so clearly multi-cultural world, why were they white European males dressed in formal Roman togas? Why didn't they intervene to stop the dreadful floods of the Hunter River in the 1950's? So many questions and so few answers. The thing that really killed the myth for me was the promise of "nine consecutive first Fridays" - the promise was that if you went to confession on the first Thursday of the month and then mass and communion on the following day and repeated that ritual for nine consecutive months then you would not die without a priest being present to give you absolution (and thus a free pass into heaven). It took me several years during my pre- and early teens to actually complete the nine first Fridays but eventually I did. I then began to worry about who kept the record of my nine month achievement and how would they be able to keep track of me throughout the rest of my life. "Take it all on faith" was not good enough for the budding/soon to be engineer my young self was. Gosh! I can relate to this book! The Holy Ghost was the part of "God" that I understood least. God the Father and God the Son (there was never a God the Mother or a God the Daughter) I could understand but this third guy? Gerald had a different understanding: "The Holy Ghost, called nowadays the Holy Spirit, was sometimes referred to as the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity. Not only did I never forget him; he was by far my favourite of the three divine persons." The role of Mary always puzzled me, but if I had read "Border Districts" way back then, I might have understood better: "The young teacher with the special devotion to Mary had once read, so he told us, that she was the daughter-in-law of God the Father and the wife of the Holy Ghost. ... I seem to recall illustrations of a young woman with her head bowed while the Holy Ghost hovers above her in the form of a dove, which was the image most commonly used to illustrate the presence of the third person of the Trinity." We move from the author's loss of faith into what seems to have replaced it; his love of reading. By way of example: "More than thirty years ago, I copied in longhand from the major work of fiction by Marcel Proust a passage purporting to explain why the bond between reader and fictional character is closer than any bond between flesh-and-blood persons. ... I could not understand his explanation. I filed the statement in the hope that I could later study it until I was able to understand it. ... I seem to remember Marcel Proust’s having written that the author of fiction was able so to report the feelings of a fictional character that the reader was able to feel closer to that character than to any living person." We are about one third of the way through the book at this stage. The author's love of reading seems to be turning into a love of books which is developing into the beginning of a library collection. Strangely though this is woven through with thoughts about the beauty of the Mater Purissima madonna and broken stained glass windows in churches leading into beautiful female characters in books to an attractive portrait of a woman author taken in profile with the light glinting off her coloured marble like eye (like the stained glass windows) — or did I just read too much into it? "As for the coloured glass, I saw the same colours and shapes in each mental image but in different surroundings. Moreover, each of the two images of coloured panes affected me differently." "The same coloured glass that I had once thought suitable for the middle-aged or the unmarried now reminded me of the good taste of my friends and contemporaries who were saving from decay the houses of the inner suburbs and preserving their quainter details." Yet further into this "report", as the person who is the narrator of this work seems to call it, we look at some of the places that he lived as a child and we are linked (or stitched back into an image of coloured glass: "One of the houses that I lived in had in one door a pane of coloured glass." I found the following paragraph mirrored my own thoughts about this strange review I've tapped out on my iDevice. Our protagonist has written a letter to a fellow author and is anxiously awaiting a reply: "I am able to propose four possible explanations for my lacking a reply. The woman is perhaps like some of my former friends who transact all their business by electronic means and disdain to answer letters through the post. She may be one of those persons who claim always to be frantically busy and whose desk is always in disorder. In gloomy moments, I suppose that the woman has already decided not to reply to my letter because she found it vague or confused or even unseemly: she may even suspect its sender to be a tiresome eccentric or mentally unbalanced. In hopeful moments, I suppose her to be still composing one after another draft of her reply to a letter that she found thought-provoking and even engaging." And yet another flashback to our shared school experiences: "I had little respect for the brothers who taught me. I considered most of them ignorant and incompetent teachers. And yet, I was sometimes sorry for them on account of the drab lives they seemed to lead..." My final thoughts... Gerald Murnane has "rambled" over many of the issues that make up a life. Throughout the book he knits these issues together by referring back to the previous paragraph (e.g. "After I had written the previous paragraph, ...") or referring ahead to a more detailed or a variation on the explanation of the issue. This is a literary technique that I have not seen before but here is done exceedingly well. The structure of this book is something I need to mention before I finish my "review". It's a relatively short book, just over 100 pages but there are no chapters - the book is a continuous piece of text from beginning to end (thank goodness there are paragraphs). This makes the book slightly difficult to read for a slow reader like myself. But it must have been much more difficult for the author to write. How he composed his thoughts and put them into a plan is a mystery. It's a credit to his skill that the book turns out as good as it is! Sorry I've rambled through this "report". It's the first time I've ever written a review like this and probably the last (I blame the book and it's author, they made me do it). Not everybody will like this book. If you love "writing" and want to try something different then you ought to try Border Districts. Regards, Peter

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary Bedford

    I haven’t much to say about this book, because I found it hard to get beyond the first chapter. I tried, but failed. Enough said.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    Don't care what "secrets are brought to light", I'm 34% (Kindle) of the way in, no idea of where I am going, so I pressed the button and got off at the next stop. Too cerebral and wordy for this reader, do so dislike sentences that take up half a page.

  30. 4 out of 5

    alex

    this is a superb novel about subjectivity as such. murnane’s biggest asset is his ability to write clearly and succinctly about the unique, silly, often wrong or ill-conceived mental images we construct of books we read, photographs we see, and the world(s) we create and hold onto.

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