Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Season on Earth
(incl. A Lifetime on Clouds)

Gerald Murnane

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Season on Earth

Title: A Season on Earth
Author: Gerald Murnane
Genre: Novel
Written: 1976/2019
Length: 489 pages
Availability: A Season on Earth - US
A Season on Earth - UK
A Season on Earth - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Completed in 1975, the four-part A Season on Earth was only published in its entirety in 2019; the first two (of four) parts were published, in slightly different from, in 1976 as A Lifetime on Clouds
  • With a Foreword by the author

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : most enjoyable, and well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Australian Book Review . 4/2019 Paul Giles
The Guardian . 6/3/2019 Paul Karp
Sydney Morning Herald* . 3/11/2013 Andrew Fuhrmann
TLS . 2/8/2019 Edmund Gordon

* review of A Lifetime on Clouds

  From the Reviews:
  • "The new novel, given it is also partly an old novel, is the perfect segue between Murnane’s own seasons as an author (.....) It’s the second -- and previously unpublished -- half that holds the key to Murnane’s later success, not because it exemplifies his best but rather because its didactic style tends to overexplain themes he will later return to in a more stripped-back, minimalistic style." - Paul Karp, The Guardian

  • "The book is very funny, with a brilliant deadpan treatment of both Adrian's continent-spanning autoerotic appetite and his elaborate historical speculations. (...) This is not a comedy of disillusionment; it's about the maturation of faith. And there's something melancholy about Adrian's progress. (...) A Lifetime on Clouds is still the quixotic oddity it was in 1976: truly one of the world's most unusual yet endearing coming-of-age stories. It is probably his most accessible book, too" - Andrew Fuhrmann, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "In most respects, then, A Lifetime on Clouds can be read as a familiar sort of Bildungsroman -- admittedly, one that’s concerned to an unusual extent with its hero’s fantasy life. It is also a familiar sort of comic novel, though the only pratfalls are mental ones. (...) A Season on Earth inverts this tendency as it follows Adrian to the seminary, where his efforts to follow the letter and spirit of religious law lead him to ever greater absurdities (.....) By the end of the novel, his relentless fantasies have taken on a nightmarish edge: as he plunges into yet another, he looks well and truly lost. (...) A Season on Earth refuses to be read as a coming-of-age story. It’s a much stranger, more interesting and ultimately more troubling piece of work than the version published as A Lifetime on Clouds. It’s also much too long." - Edmund Gordon, 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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       A Season on Earth holds a curious place in the Gerald Murnane œuvre: it is an early novel -- completed in 1975, it was his second work of fiction -- but only (the first) half of it was originally published, in 1976, as A Lifetime on Clouds. The complete novel was only published in 2019, by which time Murnane had matured and advanced considerably as an author (as had his reputation).
       A Season on Earth is a four-part novel, chronicling the late adolescence of Adrian Sherd, and each of the parts marks a significant new stage he embarks on. With the second part ending with him setting out to follow his vocation, moving away from home for the first time, A Lifetime on Clouds presumably worked reasonably well as a coming-of-age tale, but A Season on Earth leads Adrian two stages on -- considerably further, in fact.
       Adrian is the oldest of three boys in a staunchly Catholic family that lives in the Melbourne suburb of Accrington -- but when the novel opens we find: "He was driving a station wagon towards a lonely beach in Florida". Adrian is on an American adventure -- the first of many that readers are treated to -- though, as we soon learn, they are fanciful trips that he takes only in his mind. Like the map of America Adrian has in the back shed, where he runs his model train, his fantasies are warped -- but all his own:

The proportions of America were all wrong. The country had been twisted out of shape to make its most beautiful landscapes no more than stages in an endless journey. But Adrian knew his map by heart.
       The fantasies that take him constantly to this imagined USA also serve another purpose, leading him along as he practices his 'habitual sinning'. An avid onanist: "Each night his adventures became a little more outrageous" -- though, given his limited understanding of the female body, a lot of mystery remains to each of the episodes he plays out for, and with, himself.
       As a good little Catholic schoolboy -- or one who wants to be, at least, Adrian does have some concerns about his activities. Confession helps unburden him, but doesn't really give him any answers -- and he's a curious boy, always trying to learn more in a culture and times (it's 1953) that very much tries to limit what he is exposed to. So, for example, he finds:
It was hard to judge how common or rare the solitary sin might have been in New Testament days. Jesus Himself never referred to it, but Adrian always hoped an Apocryphal Gospel or a Dead Sea Scroll would be found one day with the story of the Boy Taken in Self-Abuse.
       In the second part of the novel, Adrian finds an actual girl to focus his fantasy-attention on. She takes the same train as he does when he goes to school, and while he can't bring himself to actually talk to her -- that would be much too forward -- he does at least manage to establish a very limited sense of mutual awareness between them; he even learns her name, Denise McNamara. In Denise, he finds an object to spin his fantasies around -- "That night in bed he turned to her and said her name softly" .....
       Adrian imagines them married, and has elaborate fantasies about their life together, with the delicate and complicated subject of sex one of the main ones that couple has to deal with. Adrian's fantasies have a wonderful seriousness to them, as when he tries to explain to Denise that: "there's no reason why the woman shouldn't ask the husband sometimes whether he feels inclined to perform the act", and:
     This was one of the most difficult conversations that Sherd had ever had with Denise, and he thought it best to leave her alone for a few minutes while the full meaning of it sank in. He turned back to the parlour of the retreat house.
       He wants to present himself as a man worthy of Denise -- of an idealized woman -- and true to Catholic moral expectations, but:
     Adrian realized he could never escape from the danger of mortal sin. He would always be at the mercy of his own penis.
       When he finds that even a "pure young woman" like Denise "no longer had the power to keep his lust in check" he abandons that fantasy and tries to find a real-life path back on the straight and narrow, convincing himself to join a seminary. The second part closes with him already imagining himself as Reverend Father Sherd CCR, "far from the dreary suburbs of Melbourne, the site of his shameful sins and romantic daydreams".
       The first part of the novel was: "the year of his American nonsense", the second then: "Denise's year". The third finds him at a junior seminary of the Charleroi Fathers, the Congregation of Christ the King. Convinced -- it's how he's been brought up -- that: "there's no career more wonderful than a priest's", Adrian tries to get with the programme, but falls just a bit short. He's tempted by the Cistercian order -- inspired by Thomas Merton's Elective Silence --, as an even stricter path, but, as so often with his best intentions, his follow-through is limited. By the end of the third part Adrian is on his way home -- and away from a purely religious life.
       Astonishingly, his penis did not raise its head for some eighteen months, but as soon as he's on his way home:
With his eye still at the window he reached inside his trousers and took out a part of himself that had always responded to stirring landscapes. He did not even have to think of some girl or woman in his country.
       Early on, we're told: "Adrian Sherd knew little about Australia", but, for all his fantasizing about America, his homeland is meaningful to him -- one of the things that comes to the fore as he matures. (Adrian is the same age, and follows a similar path to author Murnane -- who has famously never traveled outside Australia.) And while Adrian is repeatedly shown as something of a reader, it's only at the conclusion of the third part that we are told, flat out, that: "Adrian himself loved poetry".
       It's this that Adrian next devotes himself to, seeing himself as a poet, and trying to find an author in whose footsteps he can follow. For quite a while A.E.Housman is a candidate, but then there's that "love story, but not of the kind Adrian had expected" ..... The search goes on for a writer he can model himself on:
a man who had lived a solitary, misanthropic life while his powerful emotions drove him to write moving poems or novels.
       Adrian makes some sincere efforts -- he gets quite far with an epic poem, 'Ivan Veliki' -- determined, now, that: "poetry was the only thing that mattered in life". But, again, he finds it difficult to fully live up to his lofty ideals -- finding, eventually:
He still believed himself a recluse but in fact was spending most of his spare time locked in his back shed with pictures of women. He needed a doctrine that would justify his thoroughgoing sensuality.
       He doesn't quite find it, not here, but A Season on Earth is a striking Bildungsroman of a sincere young man with a very vivid imagination very slowly fumbling for his way in a very constrained world. He has not quite broken out of it at the book's conclusion; indeed, one could well imagine several more stages of his evolution similar to the four presented here, but despite his still being rather melodramatically at sea there seems some hope for him.
       A Season on Earth captures youthful obsessions and the ability to create worlds of one's own very well. Even within the many limitations of his world -- and it doesn't get much more limited than, for example, the seminary --, Adrian's fantasy is rich and ambitious (while also so often down-to-earth).
       Murnane captures 1950s teenage Catholic life in Australia very well, but really A Season on Earth is practically a hymn to the powers of imagination; rarely has an author presented a character's fantasies so convincingly; Murnane's command of these parts, from the opening scene, is truly impressive.
       One is reminded, at times, of Roth's Portnoy and Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole, and if there's a bit much of the sex-obsession, especially in the first part, it's certainly realistic: A Season on Earth isn't YA fiction, but certainly something teenagers would enjoy (squirmingly, at times). It is also very funny.
       The A Lifetime on Clouds-part of the novel can stand well enough on its own, but it is only half the story and the other two parts are well worthwhile as well. It's good to have the whole of A Season on Earth -- a very enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 June 2023

- Return to top of the page -


A Season on Earth: Reviews (* review of A Lifetime on Clouds): Gerald Murnane: Other books by Gerald Murnane under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Australian author Gerald Murnane was born in 1939.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links