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Inland by Gerald Murnane

Inland (original 1988; edition 2012)

by Gerald Murnane (Author)

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1866141,338 (3.5)9
Is it possible to fall in love with a correspondent based entirely on a fascination with his or her handwriting, with a map of the country they live in, with the syllables of their name? What about, then, a fictional character, in a book about a country one has never, and will never, visit?
Authors:Gerald Murnane (Author)
Info:W. W. Norton & Co. (2012), 176 pages
Collections:Your library

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Inland by Gerald Murnane (1988)


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My review of this in the Sept. 2012 issue of The Quarterly Conversation: http://quarterlyconversation.com/inland-by-gerald-murnane ( )
  proustitute | Apr 2, 2023 |
A lovely meditation on childhood, first love, and geography; if you liked the early volumes of Proust (before he gets to the delicious society gossip), you might find something to like here. On the other hand, you might not. Where Proust is quite open about what he's doing, Murnane is very sneaky; where Proust is about people, Murnane is about (for want of a better term) constellations of sensation, whether those sensations are currently being experienced, being recalled, or being invented. Deleuze, for instance, would have loved this book. That's not to say that people who enjoy literature in, how should I put it?, a less idiosyncratic way won't find anything here. There is, eventually, plenty of traditional heart-string-tugging, that anyone who likes contemporary memoir would love (and it's much better done than any contemporary memoir I've seen).

But the opening chapter... rough. It's like Thomas Bernhard shorn of both his hatred and his sense of humor. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
In the first part of this book, the narrator is a Hungarian aristocrat looking out from his library over the grasslands of the Alföld and imagining his editor and translator reading what he has written in the Calvin O. Dahlberg Institute for Prairie Studies on the Great Plains of the USA. But about a third of the way through, he is replaced by an Australian writer looking out over the grasslands of Victoria and reflecting on the books on his shelves, his adolescence in various places around Melbourne and the girls from that time he has lost touch with. But there’s no suggestion that these two imagined sets of writers and readers exclude each other, or even that they are actually different. There’s still great play being made with the colours red, white and green, there are unidentifiable quotations that look as though they come from Hungarian writers, and there is a lot of talk about areas of grassland between watercourses that are sometimes European, sometimes Australian and sometimes North American.
Murnane clearly wants to frustrate our instinct to pull a story from the text at the same time as making us think about the kind of exchange between writer and reader that is going on in a fictional text and the way both sides manipulate it. Is the page a window, or a mirror, he asks. Calvino has clearly sneaked into the story somewhere. Hang on, what was that institute called again...?
Mind-bending and an enormous pleasure to read, like everything I’ve read by Murnane so far. ( )
  thorold | Dec 29, 2019 |
One of the most wonderful books I have read in recent memory. Murnane's language is so simple, but he does with it very complicated and entertaining things. Inland is not so much a story about a man, but instead the thoughts of a man in a room remembering parts of his life and writing to his reader (whom he claims to know). The imagery is beautiful and the life of the narrator is one that could be quite a bit like the lives of any of his readers. This will be a book to read repeatedly. There is nothing to remember in it except for the joy I've felt while reading it. ( )
  jantz | Jan 1, 2017 |

"I have been writing about myself dreaming. I have been writing only to confuse you, Gunnarsen. I have confessed nothing. Read on, Gunnarsen, and learn what kind of man I am in fact. Read the true story, forger."

Inland is narrated by a man who I suppose is not in complete control of all his faculties. Or maybe he is. He imagines many things. So many in fact that the common reader of this book may get a bit irritated with it within the first thirty pages. But it all makes sense and begins escalating into quite a lively conversation, even if it happens to be happening just between himself. There are several characters at play here. His editor living in South Dakota perhaps, a woman, Anne Kristaly Gunnarsen, and her husband Gunnar T. Gunnarsen who is a scientist one of which no one has ever seen. Also included early on in this complete long fiction is a "writer of books" who comes maybe to visit the narrator who just happens to be the chief character, as well as farm servants, foremen, and overseers who all populate the farming estate of the Hungarian Alföld who in the beginning at least is telling us this tale.

It is important to note that before one begins to read a long story such as this it is best to have a good background and understanding of the working mind of Gerald Murnane, if that is even possible. My best frame of reference was to have read as much as I could of Murnane before diving into this one. The only books he wrote prior to Inland that I have not read and wished I had were his first two so-called autobiographical novels, Tamarisk Row and A Lifetime on Clouds, but Murnane repeats himself in every bit of his fiction and refers back to things he may have said in a previous fiction quite often so it wouldn't surprise me in the coming pages of Inland to read about Catholicism, women's breasts, drinking beer, masturbating, the writing of fiction long and short, landscapes, plains, prairies, plant life, trees, bushes, ponds, and hillsides among other things presumed and duly noted.

"…And at some point on my walk that lasted for nearly a year of Januarys, I learned what sort of man I would be for the rest of my life.

I learned that no thing in the world is one thing; that each thing in the world is two things at least, and probably more than two things. I learned to find a queer pleasure in staring at a thing and deeming of how many things it might be."

The above quote is taken from the text early in the book around page forty-eight. It is after reading this far and struggling throughout the bulk of it attempting to keep things straight that a reader like me realizes that doing this could be a grave mistake. Murnane, in a sense, is writing a long prose poem if one looks at the words lyrically and lets go of the atlas required to find the place names where they might actually occur. This is the last thing Murnane is requesting of us. He has already done this work for us. He is the one who has studied the map and decided on his course with little regard to accuracy or even truth. He is only looking for all the right words, which in this case so far had seemed, erroneously, like all the wrong ones to me. That is, until I stopped reading him for content and story and began reading only for pure pleasure. There is a story however. Make no mistake. But the way he gets us there is not as important as some would make it out to be. In A Thousand Plateaus, the brilliant work written by Gilles Deleuze and his partner Felix Guattari, it is suggested at the very beginning by both men to begin reading anywhere in the book and jump around as much as our impulses lead us so to do. The authors say it will not matter. And if one does read their philosophy in this way, and that goes for reading Nietzsche the same way too, then the consternation and confusions are voided and the result is quite a pleasurable read. It is only important that we take what we need from any of these types of texts, and attempting to keep our thoughts in order as well as the text is a hazardous thing to do. More errors will occur in our attempt to understand than the author intended his text to do. Murnane does not seem cruel at all, but he is definitely out and about on the page in order to have a very good time. Consider him sitting there at his desk in his office alone, day after day, and it is not a stretch to believe that he wants to have some fun too. And the more readers who enjoy traveling with him, I would think, the merrier it might make him.

Any scholars and academics who might by accident actually read this novice and amateur take of mine on the work of Gerald Murnane, especially a review of a novel already deemed to be Australia's answer to Marcel Proust and a fellow named Calvino, a work that for several years they say was a favorite in the running for a Nobel Prize and deemed perhaps Murnane's greatest work thus far, these so-called geniuses could be a bit annoyed with me for making claims that this work Inland is accessible to any of us who want to read Murnane correctly. In essence, this work is as complicated as a steel ball and there is no need in us making it any worse or more difficult than it is. Simply put, let's assume the narrator is nuts and we will be too if we intend to follow every path this insane person wants to take us on. I am convinced already, and only at page forty-eight, that the Hungarian Alföld wants somebody to read him and listen attentively to everything he says. In a nutshell, he is afraid no one is listening. It worries him to death that Anne Kristaly Gunnarsen, and her husband Gunnar T. Gunnarsen, will not ultimately be getting his messages he sends after all. And so he shocks us by writing about somebody or other having sex with sows and sheep, or heifers and the like. Even female farm servants. Giving them the old-fashioned Chinese burns on the wrists, he says. The Hungarian Alföld is not quite right in the head, and it is ludicrous to respect him so much that we look up in our own home-atlases the name places and various landscapes he says exists in the real world that you and I inhabit. If one reads enough Murnane is it stated repeatedly by all his characters and narrators that he does not, nor is willing to, live in the world we ourselves choose to. This world of Inland must be presumed to be all made-up, except for the several incidences he relates from the past coming from his own childhood memories and experiences that Murnane speaks of continuously in all his fiction and never quite believes himself to be true as truth is anyway. Gerald Murnane must be read as an entire masterwork much the same as one would read his hero Marcel Proust. But the Murnane oeuvre has not been collected as such in order for it to feel as such a daunting task as M. Proust's is for me. I have read Murnane's work haphazardly only because some it is is very hard to find and also out of print. Plus his books are quite expensive as most of them originated in Australia. So, we do the best we can.

Our summer cabin is in northern Michigan, thirteen miles inland from the great, and gorgeous, Lake Huron, and the cabin is situated in an area of seven small lakes, surrounded by white pines, jacks, and oaks, and borders on all sides the Huron National Forest. But here, in the midwest, the plains stretch, it seems, almost endlessly. There are wide and deep vistas of grasslands that roll out of sight and it is not difficult imagining your having to walk for many miles to find even a house or a town in which to shop in. Michigan is an enormous state and is surrounded, except its southern border, by water. Because I grew up and resided for so many years in a plains state Murnane reaches me on levels perhaps others are not as accustomed to arriving at in their own reading of him. I feel extremely gratified knowing I understand his language and his logic, and though I do dream of these forever grasslands and rolling hills, I am more drawn to a section of forest ten miles northwest of where I spend all my summers at my cabin. It is in those woods where daily my wife and our young dog walk three miles of trail up and down the hills of what was once, many years ago, a volunteer-run downhill ski resort. When I walk into this area off the main trail there isn't a moment when my mind is not hearing the sounds of my winter past and remembering a time when draft horses pulled sleds full of happy people sitting on straw bales and feeling somehow protected from the cold and snow blanketing the ground and trees of this paradise. And the trails today jut off that main entrance in many other directions and are now used for cross-country skiing, still maintained by a volunteer force of good men and women willing to give their time and labor to a good cause. Our adult children tease us when they walk these trails in the woods with us. We rarely use any other of the numerous trails available to us, as the one we are most comfortable walking on offers us a new and different pleasure daily. It always seems to change. One day it will be a deer who jumps and darts to cross our path, and another a porcupine lazily strolling down by the creek where our dog gets his drink and a quick swim before heading back to the car and home. There are often fresh signs of black bear, certainly because of all the wild blue berries and huckleberries prevalent in this sandy forested area. And then the sand banks cut by the trail where our dog might decide spontaneously to dig deeper into a hole for a few seconds before getting clipped on the nose by some creature we still have not identified. The landscape also changes with the light sifting through the tall pine trees and the shadows of long days. Nothing ever remains the same in our walk on this trail through the woods. And that is how I feel about Gerald Murnane. Inland keeps changing too and one needs to be satisfied just to be in its wonderful presence.

It is obvious to me the more I read this Murnane that everything he writes about is connected to everything else he has already composed in all his previous work combined, whether their being exists as essays, short and long fiction, or even a memoir if he has actually claimed to have published such a thing that would claim itself as truth. To think anything in Inland is unstructured or unorganized is admitting to not knowing the rest of the story of Gerald Murnane, which to my knowledge is still being written. Inland must be read with everything else in mind that Murnane has ever written prior to that book, just as any subsequent book must be taken as a whole with all else ever written. So by the time he finally finishes his long accomplishment there should be plenty to chew about and muse over.

"The word was far from neatly ordered."___Inland

It is obvious he does not have a fixed plan for writing this long fiction. I remember him saying something or other about the composing of this book in his essay collection titled Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs that I just finished reading. A certain book he read in English written by an Hungarian writer by the name of Gyula Illyes was titled People of the Puszta. He reported being so affected by the book his next obsessive impulse was to write his next long fiction he titled Inland in order to "relieve him of his feelings". He mentioned how he had stalled for some period of time while writing Inland and his writing seemed to be going nowhere. That tells me he writes what he wills and forget everything else. But his writing must stand up to his own tests he has devised for it. He reads each written sentence aloud and if it does not sound right and good he fixes it. This must be a very labor intensive process and he either works all the time or is somewhat accurate in his thinking aloud.

I have noticed two incidents of violence otherwise missing in his other fictions. The first was the narrator as a child making war on the breeding blackbirds and his aunts paying a penny for each baby killed or egg destroyed. The second was his father killing their pet dog Belle with a bag and tomahawk because she had not been spayed and could not be kept inside the house away from the barking males searching for her. Actually a third violent segment occurred as well when the young boy was given the job of burning in the trash barrel all the back issues of a woman's magazine the aunts had collected, and he watching their nude photographs go up in flames. Sometimes a breeze would be blowing and one of the burning pages would escape the fiery furnace and waft across the lawn. A young-woman would sometimes be looking up at him as his foot held down the page. He often thought of saving her but instead he let her face go up in flames.

It is apparent to me that Gerald Murnane wants to prove each thing in the world is two or many things. He continually digresses in this book and this I believe is because he intends on proving his prior statement he made about "things". He is seriously obsessed with this writing style and it has become a habit or behavior for him. In other words, he makes me smile every time he does this to me, the reader, and he knows full well what it is he is doing. It is he who is his own editor these days. I doubt anyone else is allowed to alter or cut his work in any way. I find it rather humorous that the new edition of Tamarisk Row, which is next in my queue, has had the final chapters restored and many of the errors found in the first edition have been corrected. Murnane has said because Tamarisk Row was his very first book he acquiesced to the demands of the female editor. Today he feels she made a huge mistake and he has thus corrected her not only in his book but on this page.

"…Each person is more than one person. I am writing about a man who sits at a table in a room with books around the wall and who writes for day after day with a heaviness pressing on him."

It is so hard to follow, as in come after, Gerald Murnane. The story never changes but then it does. The axe and the hammer coming down hard and the head that does not scream and the baby inside her sleeping was almost too much to bear. And then the ladder and the secret, the deceit and every delusion that made a criminal trial I am sure quite easy to decide. And it came to the reader as a quiet, but deadly, storm.

"I have found a way of watching a thing that shows me what I never see when I look at the thing. If I watch a thing from the sides of my eyes, I see in the thing the shape of another thing."

It becomes clearer to me as I read this book Inland that the main character, the narrator, considers many points of view. As much as everything is connected the narrator must admit that everyone sees the thing itself much differently than another. There is a constant shifting of the point of view as if there is more than one person narrating this book, or if not more than one then a point of view being considered that might be as aloft as is a cloud, or a green space in the open plains between pages in a book, or in the space between them. The narrator admits to not forgetting about mentioning the female editor of the magazine Hinterland, Gunnarsen and his wife, who both might be dead instead of still working and dreaming in the Calvin O. Dahlberg Institute of Prairie Studies.

"…a page of a book is not a window but a mirror."

There is not a page that goes by in reading that the narrator does not remember something or other and relates it elaborately with his words. The stories are simple but still complicated as he connects everything to each other and seems to let nothing get away. No memory image is safely stored away from Gerald Murnane. Whatever erupts in the mirror is quantified by long paragraphs describing the whole process of his remembering. No stone is left unturned and in due time the ambiguity of these images become clearer and less smudged. I am at once reminded of the song written by Jim Stafford back in the seventies about taking a trip and never leaving the farm. That, sometimes, is how I feel while reading Gerald Murnane.

"On grasslands I almost forget my fear of drowning… I am not afraid of drowning in grass."

The narrator speaks about a poem of W.H. Auden where he praises limestone because it dissolves in water. The wearing away of the thing the narrator most trusts, solid ground, almost makes him sick and he tries to forget the poem. I live in Kentucky which is famous for its bluegrass and the rich land credited to its sitting on top of a limestone bed creating the special formula that champion race horses are raised on. There are also thousands of caves in Kentucky formed by the eroding limestone Murnane's narrator speaks of. This also brings to mind the countless sinkholes in Florida which we read about, it seems, almost weekly now, swallowing up this or that. Last week it was a multi-residence in Disney World Estates where thirty-five or so people had to be evacuated because part of the building had fell into a giant sinkhole.

In all of Murnane's fiction there seems to be always waves of grass blowing outside the window and trees dotting the landscape. The plains and grasslands weigh heavy in all his prose. Water must always be contained, except for creeks and streams that do not bother him. Again, that damn fear of drowning, and I cannot say I blame him.

With only thirty pages to go I am taken aback at how this transformation has occurred before my very eyes without me realizing it until the new becoming had already been made. For lack of a better analogy liken it to coming down off a gigantic high in a mushroom cloud and slowly floating back to earth and normalcy until everything feels natural again and the narrator has found the mind that the readers had somehow thought he lost on this very strange trip Murnane had taken us on. I am nearly finished and the tale has become a Murnane memoir of sorts, believable at every turn, no tricks being played, and I am wondering what in the hell happened to both of the Gunnarsens and their Calvin O. Dahlberg Institute of Prairie Studies. Seems it, and they, have vanished into thin air. Or perhaps, as he mentioned earlier, they died.

Due to space restrictions on goodreads.com in order to read the rest of this review please visit:

http://msarki.tumblr.com/post/59543675327/inland-by-gerald-murnane ( )
1 vote MSarki | Sep 25, 2013 |
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I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect...Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.

Ernest Hemingway
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Is it possible to fall in love with a correspondent based entirely on a fascination with his or her handwriting, with a map of the country they live in, with the syllables of their name? What about, then, a fictional character, in a book about a country one has never, and will never, visit?

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