'My last book would be a book of books: a distillation of precious imagery.' This is, essentially, a description of Border Districts ... Repetition is also a feature of Murnane’s prose style. His implied author has a naïve affect, as if describing the world for the first time at an anthropologist’s clinical remove ... The sentences are laid on like varnish, coat after coat, until the text gleams with a high shine. Immaculate in its unadorned plainness, at certain moments his prose achieves a crystalline beauty.
...what makes it a powerful book—and indeed, I think of it as among Murnane’s two or three best—is its concision and the delicacy with which it renders its connections ... Murnane never lets us forget for long that we are reading something written, and he never lets us get far from the process of that writing ... Border Districts has found more of a balance. For me, Barley Patch has compelling, even glorious moments, but Border Districts builds quietly and slowly and unexpectedly from beginning to end ... It demands to be read in a way different than we normally read fiction; the more of Murnane’s work you read, the more you see the nuance of it, and the more satisfying it is.
Slender, tricksy, and absorbing, this new book announces itself 'A Fiction' on the cover but, inside, protests the label at every opportunity ... Long, liquid sentences seem apt to induce a trance even as they keep drawing the reader’s attention back to the only immediate reality, which is that we are reading Murnane’s words. His account of distraction, the mind’s constant wanderings while reading and writing, creates a mise en abyme in which we read and think about him ruminating on his reading and thinking about reading and thinking until the book rather gloriously threatens to swallow itself whole.
Images trigger memories; the narrator recalls and expounds on images from an image world. If this sounds odd, it is ... While reading this extraordinary work, some may envision the border the narrator has moved near to as the divide between life and death and interpret this report as a scrupulous accounting of what remains of what came before.
This piece and much of the rest of his writings Mr. Murnane has labeled 'fictions,' but another term he favors is 'reports'—thorough, fastidious and neutral in tone, they read like field notes from a journey through the interior ... Later in Border Districts, the narrator paraphrases a quotation from Kafka suggesting that 'a person might learn all that was needed for salvation without leaving his or her own room.' Mr. Murnane’s challenging, rewarding books push this proposition to its logical endpoint, elaborating a fictional world grounded in the imagery of the everyday, in which God is no longer found in the details but is replaced by those details altogether. 'Eternity is just another name for this endless scenery where we wander from one place to another,' he once wrote. Or it’s a map we spend our lives completing.
Relentlessly introspective but dependably playful, Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts is a novel that continually calls attention to its own book-ness ... The result is tedious — but fascinating ... Like Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, it is a philosophical proposition as much as a work of fiction — and often an act of devotion ... In the absence of plot, Border Districts is bound together by intersected themes of light and faith ... Space has rarely been so tenderly observed or so irrelevant ... Murnane’s mischievous suggestion is there is no point in trying to see the world as it is. Your own mind sanctifies and stains the glass.
I’ve heard Murnane called an outsider artist, but I don’t think that’s quite right. Plenty of writers emerge as if out of nowhere (after steeping themselves in canonical authors), then proceed to become more and more their eccentric selves. It might be said, however, that Murnane qualifies as an outsider literary theorist, taking a concept or two from Booth and elaborating an increasingly complex theory of fiction over several books ... Border Districts and the three fictions that precede it are letters from this austere yet infinitely fertile paradise.
He is punctilious in scrutinizing his own narration, insisting on classifying his text as a 'report of actual events' and including compositional updates ('While I was writing the previous sentences...') and revisions as he goes. Murnane’s mysterious, exquisitely constructed novel lingers with the reader just like the images that have indelibly imprinted themselves on the narrator’s mind.
The sui generis Australian writer Murnane (The Plains, 2017, etc.) is at least eccentric. He seems to be showing how a writer’s mind works when he is writing and when he is riffling through or riffing on vision, insight, and memories. A fascinating, provocative, sometimes frustrating read; the stylistic tics may grow tiresome but Murnane’s intriguing ideas and oblique angles rarely do.