'Twenty years ago, when I first arrived on the plains, I kept my eyes open. I looked for anything in the landscape that seemed to hint at some elaborate meaning behind appearances.
'There is no book in Australian literature like The Plains. In the two decades since its first publication, this haunting novel has earned its status as a classic. A nameless young man arrives on the plains and begins to document the strange and rich culture of the plains families. As his story unfolds, the novel becomes, in the words of Murray Bail, ‘a mirage of landscape, memory, love and literature itself’.' (Publication summary : Text Classics)
'I have been delivered of my books.'
These words hang in the air as Gerald Murnane confirms his retirement during a rare address to around thirty academics, writers, publishers and fans at the Goroke Golf Club. The one-day symposium, 'Another World in This One : Gerald Murnane's Fiction, is part of the Western Sydney University's 'Other Worlds: Forms of World Literature' project. On first glance it is a curious connection: how can the life work of an author who has rarely left the small pockets of Victoria, suburban Melbourne and a few regional villages and towns that he has called home for eighty years inform us about a literature of the 'world'?' (Introduction)
'[...]the uncanny is from its beginning linked to a confusion between the recognizable and unrecognizable, as well the narrator's confusion over the true state of the world. If an attempt to "see properly" is signaled in the beginning and end, then the contents of the novel drives the filmmaker from searching the landscape for a "meaning behind appearances" to the final scene, where the filmmaker offers this image: "my finger poised as if to expose the film in its dark chamber that was the only visible sign of what I saw beyond myself' (Plains 174). Murnane's return to publishing fiction began with Barley Patch (2009), in which the unnamed narrator says that it would suit his purpose to report learning while young that "a work of fiction is not necessarily enclosed within the mind of its author but extends on its farther sides into little-known territory" (71). Gelder and Jacobs use the idea of the uncanny as a means to explore a history of disquiet happenings in postcolonial society, and a feeling of disquiet does seem to exist in The Plains, in its examinations of exploration and changing landscapes.' (Publication abstract)
'The Australian writer Gerald Murnane was born in a suburb of Melbourne, in 1939, and has spent his entire life in Australia. His novel “The Plains,” first published thirty-five years ago and reissued next month, is a bizarre masterpiece that can feel less like something you’ve read than something you’ve dreamed.' (Introduction)
'In the late 1980s, as the Canadian scholar Robert David Stacey remarks, 'talk of postmodernism was everywhere' (2010, xii). Yet postmodernism certainly took regional forms. Novelists in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific briefly and tentatively identified under the banner of the postmodern, while writers in Canada took up the cause and title of the postmodern more visibly and actively.'
Thus opens Gerald Murnane's novel The Plains. It begins with a border crossing of sorts. The narrator, who remains nameless throughout the novel, recounts the process of crossing from Australia into the plains. The reader obligingly follows. Yet, the narrator cannot be sure of exactly when and where, let alone if he crossed from Australia into the plains. The border is imperceptible. This imperceptibility is not merely a problem of borders, or even a problem of place. As Gillet notes, it is a problem of 'language' and 'knowledge' - a problem, perhaps, of interpretation. What I am alluding to here is acknowledged and even perpetuated by the narrator himself. In these opening few lines the narrator refers to interpretation twice, both times in reference to the land around him. The plains, he states, seem to be the source of hidden meanings. The person approaching the plains is willed to search for such meanings. Furthermore, the search for hidden meanings, the act of interpretation, is a private one. The plains, the narrator comments, 'seemed more and more a place that only I could interpret.' (Introduction)