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Tamarisk Row by Gerald Murnane
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Tamarisk Row (1974)

by Gerald Murnane

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Observant readers might have noticed that Gerald Murnane’s The History of Books has been on my sidebar for a while now, under the heading ‘Reading Soon’. Well, so I will be, before long, because he is one of Australia’s finest writers and ought to be a candidate for Australia’s second Nobel Prize for Literature. (Update 3/6/16, see my review). I find myself captivated by the challenge of making meaning from his strange and elusive fiction, and I have every expectation that The History of Books will weave the same enchantment.

But first I wanted to read Tamarisk Row. Tamarisk Row was Murnane’s first novel, published in 1974 by Heinemann, a publishing house obviously more adventurous then than they are now. In the Foreword to the edition I am reading Murnane has some mild reproaches for Heinemann’s editor who insisted on a revision he didn’t like, but hey, I think that this unnamed editor deserves a Courage in Publishing Award for taking a risk on an unknown author with a most idiosyncratic style. After a long period out-of-print, Tamarisk Row is now readily available, thanks to Giramondo Publishing under the apparently more empathetic editorship of Ivor Indyk. It is he who is credited by the US-based Dalkey Archive with encouraging Murnane to embark on ‘a new period of creativity in the twenty-first century … which has brought him a wider readership’. (See below for a list of Murnane’s published work and his assorted publishers.)

I can’t remember where I read that Tamarisk Row is Murnane’s most ‘accessible’ fiction. On the surface it’s a semi-autobiographical novel evoking a 1940s childhood in country Victoria. Episodes in the young life of Clement Killeaton provide an illusion of realism as he describes his father’s gambling addiction and his frustrated mother’s solace in piety. The casual cruelty of children towards anyone who is different is evoked in episodes that reveal the loneliness of this child of a different sensibility; and his confusion about girls, sex and religion is revealed in the context of muscular Catholicism. The third person narration resembles a child’s limited perspective: his acute observations, his immature preoccupations and his very detailed pseudo-memories all imply naïvete because it’s written in the simple present tense mimicking a child’s way of speaking.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2012/09/14/tamarisk-row-by-gerald-murnane/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Aug 15, 2016 |
I have been stalled in my reading of this book, but inspired by it to write something else about Gerald Murnane. I am sure to get back to finishing this "first book" of his, but so much is being said and written about him I wanted to add my two cents. Murnane has made quite a splash of late with [b:Barley Patch|7140293|Barley Patch|Gerald Murnane|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1258141652s/7140293.jpg|7404210] and stating his reasons at the front for quitting writing fiction for fourteen years. He was asking the question, why write?

Among the many reasons a scholar may choose to point out why a writer writes, the one that impresses me the most, and seems most true, is to find, or have, meaning in ones life. My favorite writers always speak of discovery being the one reward within the pages they compose each day. Of course, discovery could very well make a work the order of high art and not at all as interesting to the person reading it as it was to the author behind it. But again, that is a matter that relies on the author's personality coming through and on to the page. And then it becomes whether or not he or she is somebody we wish to know better or perhaps get intimate with. It is never an easy task considering or discussing why a writer writes. But it is rare when I do continue reading an author I do not personally like, though there have been enough instances where I have relaxed my position because the author flat knocked me out. But to sustain my interest in reading a typically unsavory author depends on interesting subject matter, for no matter how well I think a writer writes if the subject holds no interest for me I flee sooner rather than later. Two conflicting but similar examples I might offer are Geoff Dyer and David Shields. Geoff Dyer is a writer I am not personally drawn to but he writes well and about interesting subjects. David Shields I personally cannot stand and his writing bores me to death though there is some merit to it. Both of these writers have a certain tendency toward creepiness, but Shields trumps Dyer every time in the creep-meter ratings and that is the main reason I abhor him as a person.

A new writer I was late in being introduced to this past year of 2013 has been the Aussie poster child Gerald Murnane. Though having spent most of his writing life basically unknown outside his country, of late he has enjoyed a rather strong emergence in both Great Britain and the United States. Many of his books are still either hard to find or out of print, but slowly the titles are being reintroduced to the masses with some measure of success. I found Murnane a delight to read and my introduction to him began with his small masterpiece titled [b:The Plains|1593668|The Plains|Gerald Murnane|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348154093s/1593668.jpg|1586739]. Cut from a much larger work, this book explores landscape and all things literary in ways I had not yet been subjected to in my more than forty years of serious reading. As I worked my way haphazardly through his entire oeuvre it became apparent to me that here was either a person of extreme genius or one of a seriously ill mind still able to write somewhat coherently, though for some it would be argued as too far a stretch on his making sense. There are periods in his books in which that is certainly the case, but Murnane always seems to be able to reconnect the dots, get the train back on the track, and continue barreling full bore across the flat lands. Though seeming to be autobiographical most of the time, Murnane claims that everything he writes is fiction.

The fact that Gerald Murnane is willing, and most eager, to investigate his own memory or images leftover from these memories, makes his writing extremely interesting to a person such as myself. But Murnane adds the qualifier that his memory is not to be trusted and for that reason alone his work is fiction no matter what, or who says otherwise.

On the page Murnane takes enormous indulgences in his beer drinking as well as in his daydreaming over what he might accomplish with the naked other sex. It feels to me that these are mere smoke screens as he attempts to disparage himself with these purported wanton desires for matters of the flesh and flagons of beer that provide for him the escape these behaviors promise from this world he is subjected to live in. And as he attempts to unleash his basest animal behavior upon us he offers dazzling signals from on literary high in order to further confuse the general reader and reduce those who remain into readers who discern and might possibly navigate a way through a labyrinth Murnane insists on calling fiction. But I don't classify what Murnane writes as fiction. In fact, I believe the author is showing us his mind and the frightening way in which it works. There are not many writers who can open their lids and show us what is inside. But Murnane somehow manages to. While reading him there are many instances when it seems to me his words have been blown or shot from a loose cannon positioned from a wholly different risen plain than the one we may have thought he was standing on. His novel Inland is a prime example of his potentially insane thinking that offers us a final proof that he cannot be trusted even with his truth. But it certainly is a fun time for those of us still willing to try.

A film that could provide a parallel look to those of us interested and perhaps an opportunity to actually "get" Murnane while he is still alive, is the brilliant documentary on Ray Johnson titled How to Draw a Bunny. What is similar to both of these performance artists could very well be discovered in their vastly organized archives and the enormous bodies of work that will most likely survive their mutual drowning in their compiling of it.

http://www.amazon.com/How-Draw-Bunny-Joseph-Ialacci/dp/B0004Z31M0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=... ( )
  MSarki | Oct 10, 2013 |
Fabulous images rendered of a poor Catholic childhood in Australia during the 1950's. Racehorses, jockey's colours, marbles, piety. ( )
  merry10 | Dec 28, 2009 |
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On one of the last days of December 1947 a nine-year-old boy named Clement Killeaton and his father, Augustine, look up for the first time at a calendar published by St Columban's Missionary Society.
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First published in 1974, and out of print for almost twenty years, Tamarisk Row is Gerald Murnane's first novel, and in many respects his masterpiece, an unsparing evocation of a Catholic childhood in a Victorian country town in the late 1940s. Clement Killeaton transforms his father's obsession with gambling, his mother's piety, the cruelty of his fellow pupils and the mysterious but forbidden attractions of sex, into an imagined world centred on horse-racing, played in the dusty backyard of his home, across the landscapes of the district, and the continent of Australia. Out of the child's boredom and fear and fascination, Murnane's lyrical prose opens perspectives charged with yearning and illumination, offering in the process a truly original view of mid-twentieth-century Australia.
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