A man travels to Australia’s interior plains planning to make a film about the region’s people and culture, but mostly he ruminates in this wry, evocative novel.
This reissue of a work first published in 1982 comes with an introduction by Ben Lerner that includes a nice analysis of Australian writer Murnane’s (Something for the Pain: A Memoir of the Turf, 2016, etc.) often exquisite sentences. There is little in the way of character, action, or plot in this thinking man’s fable. The unnamed narrator comes to an unnamed town on the plains, where he explains himself to plainsmen by telling “a story almost devoid of events or achievements.” He feels the plains are “a place that only I could interpret.” He hangs around in his hotel, where, one day, seven landowners arrive and hold audiences for various petitioners seeking their patronage. When the narrator sees them, the landowners converse in non sequiturs and then one of them offers the narrator a position in his mansion as “Director of Film Projects.” He spends 20 years studying in the library, making notes, mooning over the man's wife and a daughter, and giving occasional progress reports on his film, The Interior. He is praised for his “apparent reluctance to work with camera or projector.” Along the way, he examines such plains phenomena as a decadeslong dispute over whether the true view of the plains is that of the hazy, distant horizon or the rich detail in a patch of ground. Murnane touches on foibles and philosophy, plays with the makings of a fable or allegory, and all the while toys with tone, moving easily from earnest to deadpan to lightly ironic, a meld of Buster Keaton, the Kafka of the short stories, and Swift in “A Modest Proposal.” Lerner calls Murnane’s sentences “little dialectics of boredom and beauty, flatness and depth.” The narrator calls the plains “a convenient source of metaphors for those who know that men invent their own meanings.”
A provocative, delightful, diverting must-reread.