An extract from Gerald Murnane’s ‘Inland’
Posted by Gerald Murnane
Our Author of the Month for January is ‘Australian avant-garde of one’ Gerald Murnane. For a taste of his unique style, read the opening to his 1988 novel Inland, just reissued by And Other Stories, below.
I am writing in the library of a manor-house, in a village I prefer not to name, near the town of Kunmadaras, in Szolnok County.
These words trailing away behind the point of my pen are words from my native language. Heavy-hearted Magyar, my editor calls it. She may well be right. These words rest lightly on my page, but this heaviness pressing on me is perhaps the weight of all the words I have still not written. And the heaviness pressing on me is what first urged me to write.
Or the heaviness pressing on me could be the weight of all the days I have still not lived. My heaviness will urge me in a little while to get up from this table and to walk to the windows; but the same heaviness will urge me afterwards to sit down again at this table. Then, if I begin to write: I walked just now to the windows and looked across my estates… my reader will learn how little I see around me, with this heaviness pressing on me. Of all the wide landscapes around my manor-house, I can never bring to mind any more than the nearest field and the long line of poplar trees on the far side of it.
Is that really all? Sometimes I am aware of more fields behind the first field, and of grasslands behind everything – indistinct grasslands under grey, sagging clouds. And I could repeat a sentence or two from my schooldays: Szolnok County, on the Great Alfold…
I have forgotten for the moment what I once read in my schoolbook. But I remember the sweep-arm well in the first field behind the poplar trees.
If you, my reader, could step with me to the windows, you would notice it at once – the long pole pointing at the sky. You would notice the well-pole, but why should I? A long pole points at the sky in every view from every window in this manor-house, and in every view from every manor-house in Szolnok County. Yet again, neither you nor I might see a particular well-pole on the far side of the poplars; one of my overseers was ordered to block the well and to pull down the pole last year – or it may have been another year.
Now, something other than heaviness urges me to leave this table and to walk to the windows. I have to walk to the windows in order to learn whether I remembered, just now, the sight of a certain well, or whether I was dreaming.
But perhaps I could say without leaving this table that I only dreamed of the sight of my well. If you recall, reader, I had not left my table when I began this inquiry. I had only dreamed of myself leaving my table and then returning to my table and then trying to recall what I might have seen through my windows. I dreamed of myself here at my table and then I wondered whether the man I dreamed of – whether that man remembered the sight of a certain well or whether he was dreaming.
I dislike what I have just written. I believe my editor too will dislike it when she reads it. I had not meant to compose that sort of sentence when I began to write. And yet my elaborate sentence has made me forget for a moment the heaviness pressing on me. I will go on with my writing. I will remain at this table. I may not be able to tell you for some time, reader, whether or not a long pole points at the sky in the field behind the poplars. I may even dream of myself stepping to the windows and then returning to this table and then writing about myself having done such things. But if I write any more about the sweep-arm well, I will try for your sake, reader, to distinguish between what I see and what I remember and what I dream of myself seeing or remembering.
My editor lives in the land of America, in the state of South Dakota, in Tripp County, in the town of Ideal. (Not many atlases show this town, but the reader may see the word Ideal clearly printed a little east of Dog Ear Creek on page 166 of the Hammond World Atlas, published in 1978 by Hammond incorporated for Time.)
My editor lives in America, but she was born where the River Sio, trickling from Lake Balaton, finds an unexpected partner in the River Sarviz from the north. They do not join forces immediately, but wander side by side the whole county through, two or three kilometres apart, winking coquettishly at each other like dreamy lovers. The two streams share one bed, so large, fertile and wide that it might be called a family-size double bed. On either side the gentle slopes and peaceful hills are adorned with colours that would not be out of place on the walls of a serene and cheerful home. This is her part of the world. (Most of the sentences above are copied from People of the Puszta, by Gyula Illyes, translated by G. F. Cushing and published by Chatto and Windus in 1971. People of the Puszta is not a book of fiction. All the people mentioned in the book were once alive. A few of them may be still alive.)
My editor lives in Ideal, in Tripp County, in South Dakota, but she was born in Tolna County, in Transdanubia, and I like to think that she remembers a little of the district where she spent the first years of her life.
My editor is also my translator. She is fluent in my language and in the American language. She calls herself Anne Kristaly Gunnarsen. She is married to Gunnar T. Gunnarsen, who is tall and fair-haired and a scientist. He and his wife are both employed in the Calvin O. Dahlberg Institute of Prairie Studies near the town of Ideal. (Calvin Otto Dahlberg was born in Artesian, South Dakota, in 1871 and died at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1939. He made his fortune from breweries and paper.)
I have never met Gunnar T. Gunnarsen, the scientist of prairies. I have not even met his wife, my editor and translator. But I know that she writes at a desk in a room with books around the walls and a wide window overlooking a prairie.
Inland is published by And Other Stories, priced £14.99. Find out more about Gerald Murnane’s work here.