Gerald Murnane: Barley Patch


The latest addition to my website is Gerald Murnane‘s Barley Patch. This is a superb work from one of Australia’s foremost novelists about the art of fiction. The anonymous narrator insists that it is a work of fiction but much of the book is about writing fiction and, in particular, about how images affect both the reader and the writer. The narrator is a former teacher of creative writing and a former author of fiction (he insists on using the term fiction, rather than novel or short story; he is a former writer, as he has given up writing fiction though this is clearly what he is doing in this book.) Referring to his early reading (which tended to be adult rather than children’s works) he shows how images affect him and how he recalls images from the relatively few books he has read that he recalls with pleasure, rather than recalling words or phrases. He insists that imagination does not play a part in his own writing, though readily admits that it does in the writing of others. Despite this somewhat disingenuous comment, he gives us stories and scenes he has recreated from life (even, as he insists, they are all fictitious) and, in particular, a long outline of a book he had been writing but abandoned, which is very much a work of imaginative fiction. Above all, however, this is about the writing life, about the art of fiction, about how life and fiction intertwine and about how images affect us, as readers, as writers and as people. It is an essential read for anyone interested in the art of fiction.

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