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Gerald Murnane. Dalkey Archive, $13.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-56478-717-0

Murnane’s learned novel (after Barley Patch), published in his native Australia in 1988, goes a long way toward capturing why he’s been dubbed the Australian Italo Calvino. Like the Italian postmodernist, Murnane is a writer of deceptive simplicity, whose work is, first and foremost, about itself. In this case, a writer, ensconced in “the library of a manor-house” in a Hungarian village he prefers to leave unnamed, works in his native “heavy-hearted Magyar” language. At first, he seems to be writing to his editor, a woman who lives in South Dakota (“in the town of Ideal”), but he soon concedes—or realizes—that no such woman exists. She is—like the book he’s writing, an endless project filling endless pages—a creation of his pen who is, anyway, soon replaced by the memory of “the girl from Bendigo Street,” among other imaginative flights. Our nameless narrator reads and writes and discovers that the page is truer than life. “The only signs I am sure of are signs in words,” he concludes. So will a certain type of philosophically inclined reader with a penchant for existentialism and the paradoxically contrasting depth of literature. (July)