Border Districts by Gerald Murnane
If you’ve ever read Gerald Murnane before, you’ll have some idea of what to expect with Border Districts, his thirteenth book and, apparently, his final work of fiction. It’s esoteric, thought-provoking and difficult to describe – for the purposes of this review, though, let’s call Border Districts a nonlinear meditation on the (nameless) narrator’s life in ‘mental images’.
The novel – or, as the narrator prefers to call it, ‘report’ – begins with a description of a church in the town that the author has just moved to. This inspires a reflection on his Catholic schooling in the 1950s, Christianity in general, the story of a priest he knew in the past, the loss of faith – all in the first 20 pages – without ever naming any places or people directly. The narrator’s voice is steady and controlled, the sentences beautifully and complexly constructed, such that you’re never quite sure what tangent the narrator’s mind will go off on next. Rather than a straightforwardly plotted story, Border Districts charts the movements of its narrator’s mind and memory.
Indeed, the narrator bears a suspicious resemblance to Murnane himself – he lives in a small town near the western border of Victoria, has never left his home state in his 70-plus years, and has an affinity for horse-racing. A short novel, it is nonetheless an immersive experience that demands to be read in one or two sittings. The 146 pages of text, uninterrupted by chapters or even paragraph breaks, carry you away with the author’s subconscious, marooning you on a long and remote road that you’re reluctant to stop on, for fear of getting lost. As a result, Border Districts is hard to put down; you’re compelled to keep moving forward, exploring ‘the borders of the mind’.