Jim's Reviews > The Plains

The Plains by Gerald Murnane
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's review
Oct 01, 2007

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Recommended for: People who don't think a book needs to be all about telling a story
Read in October, 2007

The Plains is a dense story about a filmmaker who spends years researching a film on the seemingly featureless Australian plains country and its people. In place of the salt-of-the-earth sheep farmers one might expect to inhabit central Australia the narrator encounters an idealised world filled with aesthetics and intellectuals. Rather than explore the Plains that have inspired him to make the long journey from Outer Australia, however, the man barely leaves his hotel or his mentor's library and, as he gets caught up in the prevalent philosophising over the nature of the Plains and begins himself to view the Plains as a metaphor for everything in the lives of its inhabitants, he moves farther and father away from being able to make a start on his film.

This is a strange book, not quite a fable but certainly not one to be taken literally. Very little happens over a long period of time but, when it does, Murnane doesn't dwell on it preferring to focus on the spaces in between. We discover almost nothing about any of the characters, in fact, huge chunks of what is a very slim volume, are devoted to outlining the history-come-mythology of this peculiar society; this is Australia but it is not Australia. Once you learn a bit about the writer – although not a biography by any manner or means – you can also read this as something of a character study because any man who has taken the time to write a history of his bowel movements since the constipated, white-bread forties (admittedly not published) and has taught himself Hungarian without ever intending to visit the country, deserves a second glance.

That said, the book is not an easy read and reminds me of Beckett's trilogy. It is certainly not a book to read when tired. The subject matter aside, he writes in long sentences and doesn't make his points quickly. In fairness the book does what I am sure he set out to do, to epitomise the Plains and the mindset that comes from living there and in that respect it succeeds admirably.

This is my second attempt to read this book but it hasn't put me off him. He won't be to everyone's tastes but I'd happily give him another go.
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