‘Landscape with Freckled Woman’ by Gerald Murnane

It’s up for debate whether this is a short story at all, just as it’s up for debate whether any of Murnane’s individual works constitute separate entities or are instead components of one gigantic ongoing work of literature. This is the first part of Murnane’s book Landscape with Landscape, which I’m currently reading. I’ve tried to explain Murnane’s writing to recommend it, and every time I find myself at a loss to describe what he does. I could say this is a story about a man sitting on a committee and imagining conversations with the other members after the meeting has finished, which makes it sound supremely dull. And, of course, this does no justice at all to the way in which Murnane quietly and carefully makes and unmakes time, conjuring possible scenarios built on the bones of others, none of them collapsing even though at every second you expect them to do so. There is a moment in this story where the narrator imagines a woman to whom he imagines speaking reading the hypothetical thing that he will write about his speaking to her, and her reaching the exact same line that the reader has reached at that moment; I felt dizzy, pitched over by the audacity of it, as if I were viewing the page from a great height.

First published in Landscape With Landscape, Norstrilia Press, 1985/Penguin, 1987; the book was republished by Giramondo Press, 2016

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