A History of Books is in many ways a continuation of the musings of Gerald Murnane’s 2009 book Barley Patch. It’s a safe prediction that A History of Books will be unlike any other book published in Australia this year. It consists of a long series of anecdotes about a man and the books he has read and how they relate to his life and his memories. The work ranges back and forward in time and plays with subtle repetitions that might seem tedious to the casual reader but build to a very satisfying conclusion. It embodies the literary life, describing a man who ‘preferred to the visible world a space enclosed by words denoting a world more real by far’. The book also includes three shorter works of fiction that develop further the depiction of someone who ‘would seek in books what most others sought among living persons’. Murnane has an utterly unique vision and approach to writing fiction, but it’s not a vision that everyone will appreciate with its absence of plot and character development. To my mind there is no greater living Australian writer, however, it’s likely that his audience will remain a small one.
Blair Mahoney teaches English, Literature and Philosophy at Melbourne High School. This review first appeared in the Feb/March issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. Read all of Bookseller+Publisher’s pre-publication reviews here.