Coloured glass

The latest novel from legendary Australian writer Gerald Murnane, Border Districts (Giramondo), is a strange, enticing semi-autobiographical piece that makes observation rather than plot prominent. Semi-autobiographical not only in the details of the narrator’s life, but in the way it describes the art of observation, which is the author’s craft. In summary the book doesn’t amount to much, but it is the writing itself that makes an impression. A writer, retired to the west of the Wimmera (as has Murnane), seemingly in an effort to keep his memories in order, makes notes of his earlier life, including his Catholic education. As with Murnane’s other work, light is prominent. The book is centred on the theme of light and how it plays in coloured glass. The sentences have a precise, almost obsessive quality, reminiscent of travel narratives or journal entries from a hundred years ago, with the writer constantly spiralling back over previous ground in order to clarify and re-emphasise. There seems to be a concerted effort from the narrator to get the narrative just right, I suppose in the sense that we all go over memories, not just to recover, but to polish and set at the right angle. And of course there is a metaphor here not only for the author’s craft of illumination, but also for the light of truth, the pursuit of which happens not only in literature, but in religion and philosophy.

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