Book review: Border Districts, by Gerald Murnane

by | Aug 12, 2018 | Book review | 9 comments

Robert Messenger on Murnane: post 1, post 2
Here’s a fascinating New York Times interview with Murnane. I read it after reading the novel and writing this post. I suggest that you read his work first, too, if you want to be introduced to his world without too many preconceptions. Also quite interesting is a video interview that you can find on one of Robert’s posts.


  1. Rob MacKillop

    Well, I found the review interesting, so will look out for the book. Cheers.

  2. John Cooper

    I became aware of Murnane after reading the profile in the New York Times Magazine that you've linked to at the end, and searched out his collection of short fiction, Stream System. It also features the typewriting theme in the design, so the same designer apparently did all his books for the American market, which only makes sense. Murnane is incredible; his stories require more than usual concentration and patience, but reward it at the end. His particular tone–deliberate and seemingly abstracted, while actually being quite precise–is instantly recognizable after a story or two. Maybe because he's so idiosyncratic, and probably because American readers seem to particularly require some imagined personal connection with an author, his publishers play up Murnane's personal peculiarities: he's never been on an airplane; has never worn sunglasses; and so on and so on. He may not win a Nobel, but it's hard not to imagine his voluminous files becoming part of a research library that feeds biographies and volumes of analysis after his death.

    His first-person narrators usually share many of his personal traits (including place of residence, age, and family history), so it's particularly shocking when "he" reveals secrets that no one in his right mind would reveal about himself, as in the first story, "When the Mice Failed to Arrive." So far I've only read one story where he steps away from this mode, but it's a stunner, too: "Land Deal," a very short meditation on the historical clash between white settlers and native Australians that's also a mind-bending lesson in reality and consciousness.

    Based on the little I've read so far, I completely agree with you about the central concern of Murnane's work. It's wonderful that you found Murnane and that we had many of the same responses.

  3. Joe V

    I enjoyed that NYT article and the short 4 minute video. Was fun to find out he likes typing with his righthand index finger, with left hand on the shift keys. Says it matches perfectly his speed of thought. I'm going to get one of his books, sound fascinating.

  4. Richard P

    Thank you, John. I would like to try Stream System next. And yes, as the Times article makes clear, he has planned for his posterity, creating a huge archive that will be a boon to academics.

  5. Bill M

    I remembered reading about him on Oz.Typewriter. I have yet to get any of his books even though he and his books sound quite interesting. Fine NYT article.

  6. Mark

    I really like the way your report ends… and it makes me interested in the book. It sounds like it reflects on a lot of the same ideas I often ruminate on myself.

  7. TokyoJAM

    I was excited to read this after seeing Joe Van Cleave's video about your post. Also to see that Murnane has a Remington Monarch much like mine – no longer will I bemoan the lack of a paper support in the presence of such august company! Keep 'em coming, Richard!

  8. Anonymous

    Enjoyed your review. And I find the image that computers are interfering with remembering something that's puzzled me for a while. But one observation, Murnane moved to the town of Goroke to be close to his son who has a mental illness. He lived most of his adult life in Melbourne. But the town of Goroke remains a town as far away as can be imagined from anywhere. So its effect on his fiction works regardless.

  9. Richard P

    Thank you for that fact.


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