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Book review: The Plains by Gerald Murnane

It’s rare to encounter a book that is so far removed from anything else you have read. But that was exactly what happened when I picked up The Plains by Gerald Murnane.

For some time, I had been curious about Murnane’s writing as newspaper articles in Australia had presented him as a rare beast of the literary world – an author entirely disinterested in publicity of any kind.

Apparently, he lived a modest life, creating works of beauty about the Australian landscape.

It is a strange bird that Murnane has created in The Plains and even after reading it, I’m unsure what exactly it meant.

Ostensibly, the story follows a filmmaker who arrives in a place known as ‘the plains’, where people live quite differently to those who live anywhere else.

The book has a dreamlike quality, with their descriptions of the people who inhabit these lands, and of the landscape itself. Once in a while, I was startled by a gorgeous sentence, like the one when the filmmaker is at the local pub and observes:

“And then the door from the street was flung open and a new group of plainsmen came in from the dazzling sunlight with their afternoon’s work done and settled themselves at the bar to resume their lifelong task of shaping from uneventful days in a flat landscape the substance of myth.”

I feel that a second reading would be illuminating, helping me understand the mystical kind of language – if that is what it is – that Murnane uses. Like poetry, this language needs time to digest and decipher.

The plains is a book of beauty and strangeness and makes me want to read more by Murnane, when I have the time and concentration to do so, as I don’t imagine any of his books will be easy-reads.

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