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It was a privilege to be allowed into the mind of another person, the life work of another. She was curious to see what he had thought, what he had found. Already she respected his effort. It would have been difficult to sustain across the pages, the many years, the isolation, the heat, perhaps the silence.
What are the pages?
On a family sheep station in western New South Wales, a brother and sister work the property while their reclusive brother, Wesley Antill, spends years toiling away in one of the sheds, writing his philosophy.
Now he has died. Erica, a philosopher, is sent from Sydney to appraise his life’s work. Accompanying her is Sophie, who needs distracting from a string of failed relationships. Her field is psychoanalysis.
The pages Wesley wrote lie untouched in the shed, just as he left them. What will they reveal? Was he a genius? These turn out to be only a couple of the questions in the air. How will the visit change the lives of Erica and Sophie?
Murray Bail’s The Pages is a beguiling meditation on friendship and love, on men and women, on landscape and the difficulties of thought itself, by one of Australia’s greatest novelists, the author of the much-loved Eucalyptus.
‘Like a drover’s wife possessed by Thomas Bernhard—or vice versa—Murray Bail pokes about the abandoned shearing shed of the Australian psyche, looking for something more considerable and consoling and less predictable than fads, platitudes and irony. He doesn’t find it but the gift is in the delicate, cagey, amusing, lonely way he searches. Better than Eucalyptus.’
‘A curious and intriguing novel of contraries, whose central theme is the opposition between philosophy and psychology, and which is extremely wary of sentimentality and confessionalism…The pages we are reading make a commentary on different kinds of narrative, different ways of thinking about the world…The spell is most powerfully cast in the brilliant quiet skill of the writing, which can make the world come alive on the page.’
‘Murray Bail is one of the most remarkable of the generation of Australian fiction writers that includes Peter Carey and came to first maturity 25 or so years ago. … No writer since Samuel Beckett has made such masterly use of his own limits as Murray Bail…The Pages is…a wise and affecting human story in which figures who seem at first to have been constructed out of twigs or pipe cleaners gradually come alive and move through a story that is full of gravity and truth. There is love in this narrative and real feeling and an absolutely convincing evocation of Australia in both its facile urban aspects and its incorrigibly parochial bush idiocy. They become images of each other in a novel that is beautifully strange and wise for the simple reason that everything in it has been tested for the intrinsic value it may have as part of this literary design that would be dazzling if the effect, in the end, was not of a heart-rending authenticity…This is a staggeringly rich book, full of warmth and sadness and the absolute tang of the real…It’s a wonderful book.’
‘Bail’s novel crackles with ideas. It is witty and touching, and also graceful and stylized like a high-stepping courtly dance.’