Book Review: A Season on Earth by Gerald Murnane

A fantastic introduction for serious fiction readers and a panoramic view of one of Melbourne's most important literary characters.
Book Review: A Season on Earth by Gerald Murnane

A Season on Earth by Gerald Murnane.

Melbourne literary icon Adrian Sherd’s full, unedited story hid in his creator’s archives for over 40 years after being ‘mutilated’ for publication in 1979. At the hands of ‘a high-functioning alcoholic’ and an editor, A Lifetime on Clouds became the essential link between author Gerald Murnane’s literary debut Tamarisk Row and its distinguished successor, The Plains. Now, readers can adore for over 500 pages the famous schoolboy who skirmishes sexuality, poetry, Catholicism and nihilism in 1950s Australia in A Season on Earth.

Funny, absurd and honest, Adrian Sherd relieves himself of his sinful dreams of American movie stars in devotion to an anonymous girl on the train carriage to school. However, his plans of marriage and sex to fulfil his adolescent urges have him jumping through hoops of religious dogma. He then decides to abstain from women completely and to devote himself to religion. But it isn’t the physical events which make this book a masterpiece, but rather the powerful imagination that goes with them.

A Season on Earth is honest and serious yet cannot be read without a sense of the bizarre and the absurd. The inspired minds of Sherd and Murnane are naïve and heartfelt, fixing on the possibilities raised from everyday decisions and events. Delusions of grandeur flood in constantly, making A Season on Earth reside mostly in Sherd’s mind as he switches from horny seducer to devout husband, then from religious monk to black-bearded Russian anarchist reading Women’s Weekly magazine.

Murnane was once lauded by the New York Times as ‘the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of’. He has authored thirteen works of fiction, a collection of short stories, his memoir and a volume of poetry. But much of his work has been on his archives – working like a savant without editorial intrusion, Murnane has detailed accounts from throughout his life and maps and specifics of a world he created in his mind where Australia and New Zealand are connected.

A Season on Earth has an unmistakable resemblance to its author. Murnane admits he can’t tell the difference between his fiction and his life, and his connection to the Victorian landscape he’s barely left in 80 years is always there to persuade Adrian Sherd to blur the lines of reality and imagination, landscape and imagery, fiction and non-fiction.

A fantastic introduction to Murnane’s work for the new generation of serious fiction readers and panoramic view of one of Melbourne’s most famous literary characters, A Season on Earth is an important Australian book which deserves attention from the whole world.

Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★
A Season on Earth
By Gerald Murnane

Text publishing
Extent: 512pp
Format: Hardback
Text publication date: 5 February 2019
ISBN: 9781925773347
AU Price: $39.99
Categories: Humour
Australian Fiction


James Arbuthnott

Monday 18 March, 2019

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a regional journalist in the Campaspe area, Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot