cover image Border Districts

Border Districts

Gerald Murnane. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (144p) ISBN 978-0-374-11575-3

Devotees of Murnane (The Plains), the exacting Australian writer of crafty, austere fictions, will find familiar themes in this prismatic work: the fascination with color, the grassy landscapes, and the obsessive compiling of a mind’s “image-history.” The aged narrator, a “student of colors and shades and hues and tints,” has retired to a “district near the border” of his unnamed native land. There he explores the regions of his psyche with a monklike devotion, “study[ing] in all seriousness matters that another person might dismiss as unworthy, trivial, childish.” These include his lifelong enchantment with marbles and stained glass, his mental album of “image-heroines” (the Madonna, Thomas Hardy’s Tess), and a remembered line from Virgil’s Aeneid about the reddening dawn. He looks at his surroundings askance to make himself “more alert to what appears at the edges of [his] range of vision,” attuning himself to the borderlands of his senses, as it were. He is punctilious in scrutinizing his own narration, insisting on classifying his text as a “report of actual events” and including compositional updates (“While I was writing the previous sentences...”) and revisions as he goes. Murnane’s mysterious, exquisitely constructed novel lingers with the reader just like the images that have indelibly imprinted themselves on the narrator’s mind. (Apr.)