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The Experimental Fiction of Murray Bail By Michael Ackland

Chapter 1:  Enamoured with Art and Ideas
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The Experimental Fiction of Murray Bail

if I wasn’t strict on everything else I saw, even paintings” (Davidson 268).1 Bail has refused to truckle to either publishers’ or readers’ demands. His third novel, Eucalyptus (1998), was crowned with both the Miles Franklin and the Commonwealth Literary Prizes. But Bail, unconcerned with building on this succès d’estime, continued to heed his own inner promptings and high self-imposed standards. There was no opportunistic sequel, and the ensuing decade of authorial silence between Eucalyptus and his most recent novel, The Pages (2009), has only deepened the mystery that surrounds the man and his dazzling but idiosyncratic work.

Formative influences

Bail and his compositions have been indelibly stamped by his homeland. Repeatedly he has speculated on the putative influence of a harsh, empty continent on its white invader-settlers: on how it has seared and lined their faces, dried their wit, and encouraged “horizontal” narratives “unhindered or uncorrected by the obstacles of subtlety, depth or world knowledge” (Bail, Introduction xiii). The child of a later age, he was shaped even more by cultural than environmental factors. Bail was born in Adelaide on 22 September 1941, just over two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor launched the Pacific War and with it, Australia’s search for new alliances and greater self-reliance. Over ensuing decades, the nation and the future writer sought to reach beyond Australia’s Anglo-Celtic heritage to develop a unique identity—or more precisely, in Bail’s case, to discover wherein his own originality lay. For both Australia and Bail, the 1970s proved a watershed decade. Late in 1972 the Labour Party, after decades in opposition, swept to power pledging to “turn on the lights” and promoting a program that included realigning Australia with its region and reconnecting it with what was most vigorous and promising in global culture. Many formerly disenchanted expatriates, among them Bail, decided to give their native land another chance and set about redrawing radically the boundaries of what was conceivable within Australian fiction. A “new confidence” spread, as Bail put it, like “a kind