Gerald Murnane (born 25 February 1939) is an Australian writer, perhaps best known for his novel The Plains (1982). The New York Times, in a big feature published on 27 March 2018, called him "the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of".
Murnane was born in Coburg, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne, and has almost never left the state of Victoria. He is one of four children–one of whom, a brother, suffered an intellectual disability, was repeatedly hospitalised and died in 1985. Parts of his childhood were spent in Bendigo and the Western District. In 1956 he graduated from De La Salle College, Malvern.
Murnane briefly trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1957. He abandoned this path, however, instead becoming a teacher in primary schools (from 1960 to 1968), and at the Victoria Racing Club's Apprentice Jockeys' School. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne in 1969, then worked in the Victorian Education Department until 1973. From 1980 he began to teach creative writing at various tertiary institutions.
He married in 1966 and has three sons.
Murnane's first two books, Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), seem to be semi-autobiographical accounts of his childhood and adolescence. Both are composed largely of very long but grammatical sentences.
In 1982, he attained his mature style with The Plains, a short novel about an unnamed filmmaker who travels to "inner Australia", where he endeavours to film the plains under the patronage of wealthy landowners. The novel has been termed a fable, parable or allegory. The novel is both a metaphysical parable about appearance and reality, and a parodic examination of traditions and cultural horizons. It has been suggested that the book's opening has the narrator expressing an outlook that is typical to Murnane's writing:
The Plains was followed by: Landscape With Landscape (1985), Inland (1988), Velvet Waters (1990), and Emerald Blue (1995). A book of essays, Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, appeared in 2005. These books are all concerned with the relation between memory, image, and landscape, and frequently with the relation between fiction and non-fiction.
2009 saw the release of Murnane's first work of fiction in over a decade, Barley Patch, which was followed by A History of Books in 2012 and A Million Windows in 2014. Will Heyward, in a review of A Million Windows for Music & Literature, suggests that these three latter works may be seen as a single, continuous project, containing "a form of fiction defined by a fragmentary style that avoids plot and characterization, and is instead narrated by association and the fugue-like repetition and variation of images."
In June 2018, his 2017 autobiographical novel Border Districts was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.
Although Murnane is primarily known within Australia, he does have a following in other countries, especially the US, Sweden and Germany. In July/August 2017, The Plains was the number 1 book recommendation of South West German Radio (SWR2). His works have been translated into Italian (Velvet Waters as Una Melodia), German (The Plains as Die Ebenen, publ. Suhrkamp Verlag) and Swedish (Inland as Inlandet, The Plains as Slätterna, Velvet Waters as Sammetsvatten and Barley Patch as Korntäppa).
Tamarisk Row and Border Districts were published in the UK by And Other Stories in 2019.
Personal life and interests
Murnane is an avid follower of horse racing, which often serves as a metaphor in his work. A documentary, Words and Silk – The Real and Imaginary Worlds of Gerald Murnane (1989), directed by Philip Tyndall, examined Murnane's childhood, work, approach to the craft of writing, and interest in horse-racing. Since his retirement to Goroke, Murnane has played golf at the Goroke Golf Course.
In June 2018 Murnane released a spoken word album, Words in Order. The centrepiece is a 1600-word palindrome written by Murnane, which he recites over a minimalist musical score. He also performs works by Thomas Hardy, Dezső Kosztolányi, DEVO and Killdozer.
- The Patrick White Award (1999).
- A Special Award in the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards (2007).
- The Australia Council emeritus award (2008).
- The Melbourne Prize for Literature (2009)
- The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature 2010 Award for Innovation in Writing
- A Million Windows short-listed for the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Award for Fiction (2015)
- Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
- Prime Minister's Literary Awards for Fiction, for Border Districts, 2018.
- (1974) Tamarisk Row. William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne.
- (1976) A Lifetime on Clouds. William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne.
- (1982) The Plains. Norstrilia Press, Melbourne.
- (1985) Landscape With Landscape. Norstrilia Press, Melbourne.
- (1988) Inland. William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne.
- (1990) Velvet Waters. McPhee Gribble, Melbourne.
- (1995) Emerald Blue. McPhee Gribble, Melbourne.
- (2005) Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2009) Barley Patch. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2012) A History of Books. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2014) A Million Windows. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2015) Something for the Pain: A Memoir of the Turf. Text Publishing, Melbourne.
- (2017) Border Districts. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2018) Border Districts. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.
- (2018) Collected Short Fiction. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2019) A Season on Earth. Text Publishing, Melbourne.
- (2019) Green Shadows and Other Poems. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
- (2019) Border Districts. And Other Stories, UK.
- (2019) Tamarisk Row. And Other Stories, UK.