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Barley Patch (Australian Literature Series Australian Literature) Paperback – 4 Oct 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1 edition (4 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564786765
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564786760
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.2 x 2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 922,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

An obsessive, funny, wonderfully self-invented writer at the height of his powers. --Michael Heyward

About the Author

Gerald Murnane was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1939. He is the author of eight works of fiction, including Inland (forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press), The Plains, and Tamarisk Row, as well as a collection of essays, Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs. Murnane has been a recipient of the Patrick White Award and the Melbourne Prize. Barley Patch won the 2010 Adelaide Festival Award for Innovation.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Hugely Original 7 May 2012
By las cosas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Murnane, a long time teacher of creative writing asks his students, and himself why they want to write, and in particular write fiction. His students appear unwilling to confront that challenge, but he decides he will no longer write fiction. Sort of. Maybe. Depending on what you consider fiction.

And he also decides to no longer read fiction, but instead to revisit in his imagination those works of fiction that he has already read, including hundreds of pages of a novel he was writing when he decided to no longer write fiction.

There is an element of Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole about all of this. That we are thrown into worlds of fiction that he remembers layered with remembrances of childhood and even calendar pictures. Are all of these fictions? Because they are so intensely remembered and retold as though relived, does that make all of it fiction, or all of it a memoir and thus supposedly nonfiction? The author doesn't seem to have an answer, or at least one he wants to share.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the layering of "truth" with "fiction" and the essential irrelevance of those categories. As a young boy in rural Australia each month a magazine would arrive in the mail that contained serialized novels. What interested him most were the female characters in these novels, and he would create an entire world for himself, as a variation on a main male character in the novel, and then meander around the novel's world. His brain would register the elements of the books, and made no attempt to change those. They were are immutable as the objects and occurrences in his own home. But he was free to imagine himself within this world, to allow his imagination to fill-in the spaces where the novel was silent. For example if a particular character lived in a house, he was free to walk seemingly randomly back and forth outside the house in the hope that his favorite character would emerge and he would have an excuse to start up a conversation with her.

In the same way his "real" life was filled with desires that were no less "fictional" than his interaction with fictional settings. He had never seen a house of more than one story when, while visiting female cousins, he learned that they had a dollhouse with a second story, and windows in that second story through which he could "see" down onto the world below. And later when he enters a two-story building and can look through the windows to the yard below, is this really different than looking through the doll-house windows or visiting a manor home in one of the novels? And if there is a difference, can we call that difference fiction versus nonfiction?

His language is as unusual as his inquiries: circumspect, inquiring, honest. A random example: "When the young man who lived in the upstairs flat first mentioned a monastery or a convent, and whenever he afterwards talked about such a building, the chief character saw in his mind one or another detail of an image of a two-storey building of blue-stone that he had seen twice only." That young man is the author in the abandoned work of fiction.

I was disoriented while reading this book. The author slowly, patiently, works his way through numerous explanations, numerous scenes, but it is difficult to see a plan in the narrative. Plot is rarely the point in books published by Dalkey, so I wasn't expecting much in the way of plot. But signposts, symbols...something to tell me where I was being led. At some point I gave up and simply allowed Murnane to proceed. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, and I find myself thinking back to it often, filling in the spaces between his stories, between the fictions he read, the fictions he envisioned, and the life story he weaves throughout the book. The result is less than a cohesive whole, but much, much larger than a simple fiction, whatever that means.
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