Adam Rivett reviews 'A History of Books' by Gerald Murnane

A History of Books 

by Gerald Murnane

Giramondo, $26.95 pb, 206 pp, 9781920882853

The autobiography, that seemingly inevitable act of self-revelation, is frequently a work tricked out with very little art. For the novelist, unlike the anecdote-disposing musician or painter, the problem is doubled: they are making a home with the same tools. Rare is the autobiography that, like Nabokov’s Speak, Memory (1951) or Martin Amis’s Experience (2001), speaks in the voice of the working artist, similarly lush or distinctive – the same register, that same unmistakable snap and hum. Too often a plainer style is attempted: the unadorned truth, as it were, after so many convincing lies. But what happens when, at some crucial point in a writer’s oeuvre, the distinction between fact and fiction – or, to use the market’s terms, fiction and non-fiction – becomes a useless one? Gerald Murnane has always been a deeply autobiographical writer – he once famously claimed to possess no imagination, which would seem to make memoir of any kind a default position – and his latest work of fiction, A History of Books, renders the distinction more useless than ever.

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Published in June 2012, no. 342
Adam Rivett

Adam Rivett

Adam Rivett is a Melbourne-based reviewer. He contributes to The Slow Review.

Comments (1)

  • Leave a comment

    actually just looked up your review ... I thought I remembered it was longer???

    Friday, 12 July 2013 22:12 posted by  teresa

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