A Lifetime on Clouds by Gerald Murnane
Gerald Murnane had me hooked from page one of what is his second novel, A Lifetime on Clouds. Murnane’s wonderful imagination (and perhaps parallels with his own Catholic schoolboy upbringing) is exhibited through the hilarious and sincere tale of teenager Adrian Sherd, whose mundane 1950s family life in Melbourne suburbia is supplemented by his own wild imagination.
Adrian is a self-described sex maniac who can’t keep his hormones in check. He finds inspiration for his outrageous and increasingly disturbed sexual fantasies in the entertainment section of the local newspaper, where the latest Hollywood starlets are discussed and illustrated. He also attempts to uncover the secrets of the female form from magazines and art books but ‘… suspect[s] a conspiracy among artists and sculptors to preserve the secrets of women from boys like himself’.
As a Catholic schoolboy, Adrian is not only fighting impure thoughts but is constantly plagued by pre-conditioned religious guilt. I found Murnane’s colourful descriptions of the priests’ and brothers’ lectures to the boys on carnal sins particularly enjoyable. Adrian comes up with some very funny methods to keep his mind and body both occupied and exhausted between Thursday confessional and Sunday mass. He does not want his parents to look on shamefully if he is unable to attend Holy Communion; an indication he was unable to remain pure for those few days!
When Adrian’s imagination starts to lead him on a path to redemption, I found the story shift delightful. As intently as he was headed in one direction, Adrian is spun to now focus his entire life on another path. The fun that Murnane has with these variations in Adrian’s character is what makes A Lifetime on Clouds such a joy to read.
Suzanne Steinbruckner works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.