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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Gerald Murnane

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To purchase Inland

Title: Inland
Author: Gerald Murnane
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988
Length: 173 pages
Availability: Inland - US
Inland - UK
Inland - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing introspective writer's book

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 11/1/2024 Richard Robinson
The NY Rev. of Books . 20/12/2012 J.M.Coetzee
The Observer . 14/1/2024 John Self
Publishers Weekly . 28/5/2012 .
TLS . 9/6/1989 Helen Harris
TLS A 12/1/2024 Nick Holdstock

  From the Reviews:
  • "Inland is a novel that, in even more absolute terms than these books, disrupts realist conventions about setting and sense of place. Murnane is a fastidious exponent of the prose sentence, which he often treats as a report of a remembered image. From the interconnected pattern of these image-sentences we gradually infer not a place out there, but the landscapes of a solitary mind. (...) Murnane is constantly thinking and seeing in idealities: things that exist only as creations of the imagination. This crucially includes the books that he sees -- their words, pages, spines and the superimposable images they invoke." - Richard Robinson, The Guardian

  • "Inland tries to give substance to this obscure originary sin by situating it in an overt work of fiction, and thus -- in Murnane's metaphysical system -- making it real. This invented fiction is a complicated piece of work, so complicated that following its ins and outs will defeat many first-time readers. (...) The emotional conviction behind the later parts of Inland is so intense, the somber lyricism so moving, the intelligence behind the chiseled sentences so undeniable, that we suspend all disbelief" - J.M.Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

  • "(H)ere there is no plot to speak of. There is, however, narrative direction, and an intimacy that comes from the narrator directly addressing the reader, both of which give Inland a surprisingly moreish quality. (...) It reads like nonfiction, but the narrator is not Murnane. (...) Inland may be light on characters, but it is full of character and of Murnane’s vision of the world, and even his brand of rich austerity cannot resist some traditional novelistic pleasures, whether comic (...) or emotional." - John Self, The Observer

  • "Murnaneís learned novel (after Barley Patch), published in his native Australia in 1988, goes a long way toward capturing why heís been dubbed the Australian Italo Calvino. Like the Italian postmodernist, Murnane is a writer of deceptive simplicity, whose work is, first and foremost, about itself." - Publishers Weekly

  • "By constantly game-playing and undermining the edifice of his own fiction, Murnane is left with an end product too artificial to have much evocative force. His entirely cerebral Inland, where place-names serve mainly to mislead, remains, in his words, "a ghost of a book". There are shades of Calvino and Kundera in the playfulness, and at moments Inland reads as though translated from a European language. When Murnane does introduce real memories of his Australian childhood, the writing comes marvellously to life." - Helen Harris, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Inland is not a wilfully obtuse book. In the next section Murnane begins to supply keys and, once the doors start opening, you begin to appreciate the ambition and power of this remarkable work. We speak of plot spoilers, but in the case of Inland the risk is more of ruining Murnane’s process, which, as in the opening section, is to present the reader with episodes, statements, memories and dreams without elucidating their significance or connection to one another. The effect is to generate a sense that something almost ineffable is being communicated. As a result, when the exposition follows, it is like something revealed." - Nick Holdstock, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       At one point in Inland the narrator admits:

     I had believed for most of my life that a page of a book is a window. Then I had learned that a page of a book is a mirror.
       In Inland, a writer reflects on and describes his life. His writing and his pages are both windows and mirrors, yet they do not obviously and easily reveal what one expects from windows and mirrors; much of his exercise -- and Inland is presented, in many respects, as a writing-exercise -- is in transforming words, expression, and pages into true windows (clear, with a full view of everything outside) and mirrors (accurate, not distorted reflections).
       The narrator comes across an epigraph in an "unlikely book" (he identifies the book as being by Patrick White, but does not admit to its title -- The Solid Mandala); the epigraph is by Paul Eluard:
There is another world but it is in this one.
       Inland very much has this feel of overlapping worlds, with the narrator trying to get at and and understand that other. So also he begins in two other-worlds, artificially bridged, presenting himself as a writer living on an estate on the Great Hungarian Plain (the Great Alfold) whose editor and translator, a woman who: "calls herself Anne Kristaly Gunnarsen", in turn lives in the great American prairie lands, in the unlikely (but real) town of Ideal, South Dakota. She and her husband both work at an Institute of Prairie Studies; she also hopes to fill the still vacant position of the institute's official organ, a publication called Hinterland.
       The narrator writes about writing to his editor (and about not writing to her, and about trying to write to her ...). He also imagines, for example, her husband's jealousy (which, in turn, is surely mainly a way for him to deal with his own jealousy of her husband).
       As throughout, writing is limited and circumscribed; the writer speaks of writing pages, rather than stories or books, and it is the "page of a book" that he sees as window or mirror. In part this can be attributed to a fear of mortality: a completed book is something finished, and suggests also an erasure of sorts of the author behind it: the book can stand on its own. So also he describes himself as declaring:
he had been preparing for some time to write on a few pages and to send the pages to the young woman in America, but he was afraid that if he wrote on too many pages someone in America might bind the pages into a book with his name on it, after which the people of America might well suppose he was dead.
       This fear of finality -- bizarre though it may seem -- clearly weighs heavily on him, and holds back some of his writing.
       Less than a third of the way through the book the narrator shifts his narrative and himself, to a garden: "between the Hopkins River and Russells Creek", meaning the vicinity of Melbourne, in Murnane's native Australia. Here, suddenly the narrator resembles Murnane far more than the estate-holding Hungarian self who narrated the first few dozen pages of the book: even as the narrator seems to maintain the same voice, his circumstances have become different ones (even as also connections remain between these two versions of himself).
       The opening section of the novel now appears much more like one in which an author has chosen to write through a sort of alter ego -- though this narrator seems little more than a transplanted version of Murnane. As if realizing that it is an unnecessary added layer, Murnane peels the narrative back closer to his own experience. Fundamentally, the narrator does not change, even after his external circumstances change -- but then this novel is also an exploration of such multitudinalities, as:
     All those empty spaces, reader, are our grasslands. In all those grassy places see and dream and remember and dream of themselves having seen and dreamed and remembered all the men you have dreamed you might have been and all the men you dream you may yet become. And if you are like me, reader, those are very many men, and each of those men has seen many places and dreamed of many places and has turned many pages and stood in front of many bookshelves, and all the places or the dream-places in the lives of all those men are marked on the same map that you and I are keeping in mind, reader.
       (It's hard to avoid some autobiographical speculation here as well: Murnane notoriously does not travel -- but came to learn Hungarian at a relatively advanced age; see his piece, The Angel's Son: Why I learned Hungarian late in life (in which he also notes that: "In 1977, I read for the first time a book titled People of the Puszta. It was an English translation of Puszták népe, by Gyula Illyés, which was first published in Hungary in 1936. The book had such an effect on me that I later wrote a book of my own in order to relieve my feelings"; that book is, of course, Inland, while an earlier work of Murnane's is The Plains).)
       Inland is also a novel of longing -- for girls and women, for the past and youth, and for the wide open spaces of the Hungarian plains or the American prairie or Australia's plains. There is a great deal of reminiscence -- both artificial (some of the scenes in Hungary, for example) and what seem to be more authentic ones from Murnane's own Australian past.
       Inland is framed as a book about writing -- the narrator is constantly writing, or trying to write, or thinking about how to write -- and arguably Murnane (and/or his narrator) clings to that too strongly, using it as an excuse to avoid confronting emotion and feeling more directly. Nevertheless, it does have powerful moments, and does work quite well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 August 2012

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Inland: Reviews: Gerald Murnane: Other books by Gerald Murnane under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Australian author Gerald Murnane was born in 1939.

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© 2012-2024 the complete review

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