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Fiction

March 09, 1986|JUDITH FREEMAN

THE PLAINS by Gerald Murnane (Braziller: $12.95). "The Plains," written by an Australian and set in the interior of that continent, is an allegorical novel. Not since Alain Robbe-Grillet's "Jealousy" has a book appeared so impenetrable. A nameless man awaits an audience with the plainsmen, descendants of pioneering families who hire artisans and writers to chronicle the history of the lands that form their identity. The man is composing a film that will reveal the true nature of the landscape. He's looking for a woman, daughter of a plainsman, who is crucial to his final scenes. The woman is located, but years go by without his speaking to her although they live in the same house, and the film is never made. The landscape is too paradoxical to be captured. All the theories about the plains add up to a feeling that all things are mutable, and therefore, illusive. Things unfold in this novel like they do in dreams, where unlikely couplings between humans and landscape occasion curiosity, but little really happens and meanings are obscured. The film maker says the plains are "a source of metaphors for those who must invent their own meanings."

The same could be said of this book. The reader must invent meaning from sometimes brilliant, sometimes obtuse clues. When you finish, it's like awakening, exhausted after slogging through nocturnal realms, and not being able to figure out exactly where you've been.

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