Have you ever read a book that kept you turning the pages mostly because you wanted to finish it so you could talk and write about it? I stole my own thunder by writing a short review of Gerald Murnane's Border Districts - A Fiction on Goodreads without realizing that it would cross-post to Facebook. Oops. Here it is, because it's a good start to what I want to talk about:
Damned if I know. The disturbingly precise use of language, the fact that it's almost certainly not a fiction in any accepted sense of the word, and recursive nature of the images that collapse into a heap by the end...this is one of those cases where I can recognize brilliance without completely comprehending it. That's a lot for a book that clocks in at 120 or so pages. I get the sense that I would benefit from reading this book multiple times; there's a circularity to it that Grant Morrison would admire.
That's all true, but it fails to capture what it's like to read this truly odd book. When I read Naked Lunch, it didn't strike me as truly odd as Murnane's book. It was weird, sure, but it was weird in an messy, disorganized way. Border Districts - A Fiction is on the other end of the spectrum. Take this passage for example:
"Today, while I was writing the previous paragraphs, I seemed to arrive at my own explanation for the intimacy between a reading boy and a remembering man on the one hand and on the other hand a female personage brought into being by passages of fiction. (I do not consider the boy and the man fictional characters. I am not writing a work of fiction but a report of seemingly fictional matters.)"
There are hundreds more like it, self-referential to a dizzying degree. He refers to previous paragraphs constantly, and images recur in different contexts throughout its entirety. Murnane doesn't have stylistic tics; he has stylistic spasms. You will probably never see the term "so-called" used so often in a book of any length.
Oh, I guess I should talk about what the book is about, huh? Ostensibly, it's about a man who moves from the capital to a small town on the border of a neighboring state, and he spends the entire novel describing his memories. What it's really about is Murnane ruminating over mental images. He considers their origins, their accuracy, their persistence, and how they will overlay one another, so that the mental image of one thing can be the image of something else slightly modified to suit the new thing or idea.
Which is to say, it's pretty abstract. So, you have a writer who discusses abstractions with incredibly precise language. Try to imagine Bertrand Russell and Cormac McCarthy co-authoring a book in a "things you might see in a small Australian town" and you're not too far from it. It's genuinely fascinating, even when it's not always a sprightly read, and I suspect it's a better book than I have the ability to appreciate.