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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.
This is a very good literary novel of a writer's reverie.And since a common reader like me can appreciate such a book, this book has no chance of winning the 2018 Miles Franklin Award given that I could not finish last year's winner (
- I gave it one (1) star).
This stream-of-consciousness has vivid imagery and an easy to read style. I was able to read entire book in a couple of sittings.I could even read this book in a noisy pub without getting distracted.
I think I was able to appreciate the author's musings on light and colour because I am reading
Leonardo da Vinci
concurrently. In that book, Isaacson explains Da Vinci's mastery of light and colour.
Murnane's book also appears to be a commentary on the Australian literary scene. This book is nowhere as savage as Keneally's demonisation of the "Australian Cultural Police" in
Jacko: The Great Intruder
. Maybe the literary scene has matured in the meantime in Australia.
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?
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!
Not everybody will like this book. If you love "writing" and want to try something different then you ought to try Border Districts.
My main criticism of this book is that, while others find the writing excellent, I found that it consists to a very large degree of sentences like this one, that continue on for an extraordinary length, one of which I counted at a whopping 267 words, yes, in a single sentence, and consisting of one clause after another, each expressing a different idea often is completely unrelated to the others and not even staying in the same decade, such as talking about grandmother washing the dishes while thinking about stained glass windows and flowers in the garden, all thrown together in a single sentence which I supposed has some purpose to illustrate an old man's train of thought mentally wandering around his life time and his literary repertoire, a point of which I think the narrator is quite proud, although it makes it quite difficult to read so that readers like me, who apparently doesn't have the required attention span or for that sake the memory to even recall what the sentence was supposed to be about by the time I get to the end of it.