Reviewed by Gerard Healy
In an article in the New York Times on Gerald Murname, the journalist poses the question, is (he) the greatest Australian writer you’ve never heard of? Although Murname has written 11 books of fiction as well as poetry and is mentioned as a possible Nobel winner, many readers are seemingly unaware of his work.
Some of the answers may lie in his reclusive life in rural Victoria, his lack of self-promotion on the festival circuits and the fact he hasn’t won the Miles Franklin award. But as a writer, is he any good?
Judging by his poems in ‘Green Shadow’ he is above average, in my opinion. The poems range across the personal experiences that have made him feel deeply, as well as the writers who have inspired him over many years. Among other topics, he covers the death of his wife from cancer, the swallows that nest in his garden and the social dance of small town life.
In ‘Angela is the first’, for example, Murname describes a brief encounter with a woman at the local golf club. Like him, she has lost her spouse to cancer, but for the first time in nearly five years…”(she is) the first to attract me by looks alone.” He considers his chances at courtship and then seems to withdraw from the field…”and that will be all that happens in the visible world”, implying that he will continue pondering the reality and some alternative possibilities of his situation. He concludes the poem by inviting us, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, into keeping these thoughts private and saying that…”surely she’ll never hear of its (the poem) being published,” unless we tell her, of course.
By contrast with these somewhat positive musings, in ‘Rosalie isn’t speaking’ he ventures into social bafflement. Again the subject of the poem is a local widower and again Murname uses the social situations found in smaller communities everywhere as his backdrop. This time however he is ignored by the woman and he writes,
“Rosalie’s snubs should matter not a bit, And yet they’re starting to tell.”
After giving some of the background to the woman and her late husband, who he only knew briefly, Murname builds to a frustration point and wonders why he is so dependent on people’s good opinion of him. Without this, “I’m strangely unsettled.”
In the title poem, ‘Green Shadows’ Murname tells us of his hero, John Clare and his inability to finish a book about him. He couldn’t do it this time, even though he’d read it years earlier and in spite of being able to cope with several life and death situations, in his nearly 80 years. He believes that the answer to this puzzle and the truth of engaging with texts is that…
”of there being no reader nor subject-matter-
Only images and feelings in a sort of eternity.”
Murname’s style is a conversational one, with long sentences flowing on and linking stanzas with his thoughts. It’s as if we’re reading his journal as he unburdens himself of his emotional reaction to both everyday events and more significant life-changing ones.
Gerald Murname was born in 1939 in Melbourne and has written 11 works of fiction, including ‘Border Districts’ (which won the PM’s Literary Award for Fiction in 2018). He lives in the small town of Goroke in rural Victoria and has had a lifetime interest in horse racing.
By Gerald Murname