An introduction to Tamarisk Row , Gerald Murnane’s first novel.
Gerald Murnane is an Australian writer known for his novel “The Plains” (The Plains, 1982). He has been called by the New York Times “one of the best living English writers that most people haven’t heard of.”
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T.amarisk Row , my first novel, was published in 1974. I was already thirty-five at the time, and it had been in early 1964, or ten years, that I had been trying to write such a book.
The first fragments, later abandoned, hardly resemble the published text. The book has gone through various interim titles, all quite different from Tamarisk Row . That title came to mind in 1968, and almost immediately it allowed me to clearly imagine the contents of the book and its form. For the first time in five years, I was sure I would finish writing it.
In the five years that I had not been able to write more than a few thousand words before giving up, I had sometimes believed I was unable to write anything longer than a short story. Today I think I was unable to write what I thought was a conventional novel: a book with a plot, with characters who deserved to be called credible, and with numerous passages in direct speech.
As a boy, in high school, I had had a lot of trouble writing critical essays on novels. Ten years later, at university, as an adult student of English Literature, I had even more if possible. Even when it seemed to me that I understood something of the literary theory that was fashionable at the time, that theory remained completely disconnected from my experience as a fiction reader, let alone from that of an aspiring novelist.
I don’t remember ever thinking, even as a child, that reading fiction served to better understand that place that is commonly referred to as the “real world.” I think I immediately felt that reading fiction meant making a new kind of space accessible to me. In that space, a version of myself was free to move between places and characters that were distinguished by the feelings they aroused within me rather than by the outward appearance, and even less by the possible similarities with places or people of the world. in which I was reading. I also seem to have felt, very soon, that some of my experiences as a reader would change me, as a person, more than many events in that world.
The characters among whom I seemed to move as I read were not simply the protagonists of the story. It often seemed to me that the character who most intimidated me was on the far horizon of the place where the events of his story took place. (This magnificent character, however, sometimes seemed to be right next to me – as if we were looking at everything from the same point of view, or almost.) The magnificent character, as I could have called him, or called her, a long time ago, today I call him Narrator or Implicit Author, and I often remain, even today, as impressed by him or her as by any other fictional character of which he , or you, assume existence.
The notebooks or diaries I kept in the early 1960s contain pages and pages of hypotheses about how I should write the final draft of my first novel. A recurring question was, “How much should I expect to know?” Another issue that troubled me was the distance I should have put between myself as the narrator and the character I felt closest to in the story. While writing about these things, it sometimes seemed to me that I was too indecisive, or unnecessarily distressing about a problem that I should have solved a long time ago. Today, however, I am a little proud of that younger self, who could have borrowed his writing from any of the authors who were fashionable then and yet didn’t want to – he could n’t. to do it.
I thought of a way to define the type of narrative I used in Tamarisk Row . I call it ‘thoughtful narration’. Of some novels it could be said that they give life to some characters. I wish that Tamarisk Row could be said to have given life to the character who is responsible for it: the narrator through whose mind the text is filtered.
There are those who thought that the image on the cover of the first edition of Tamarisk Row represented a portion of the planet Earth. In reality, the image represents a portion of the surface of a colored glass marble. I didn’t decide to have on the cover of my first novel the image of a glass object whose distinctive characteristics are found within the object itself. I don’t think, however, that a more suitable image exists. To a hasty reader, the text by Tamarisk Rowit may seem like an account of so-called real events on the surface of a well-known planet, but I have always hoped, since I started taking my first notes almost fifty years ago, that to a reader who appreciates my book it would be seemed to look at imaginary scenes and characters as if through colored glass.
The text of the first edition of Tamarisk Row contained several typos, which have been corrected for this new edition. Likewise, the last two sections of the book have been returned to their original position. The Gold Cup concludes is now at the very end, where I always wanted it to be. The editor of the first edition had insisted that the book should not end with the arrival of the race. I, who hadn’t published anything yet, had given in to his will.
Over the years, several readers have told me to consider The Gold Cup endsan example of the so-called stream of consciousness. It is not so. What is now the last section of the book consists of five very long compound sentences, each comprising a main sentence and numerous subordinate sentences, along with part descriptions of a horse race. These six elements are intertwined, so to speak. The first sentence begins; shortly after the second begins; later the third begins and after it the fourth followed by the fifth. Finally, the chronicle of the race begins. Shortly thereafter the first sentence continues, only to be interrupted by the continuation of the second sentence, followed by the continuation of the third sentence and so on. In due course, the five sentences come to an end, one after the other. The chronicle of the race, however, does not really end.