a radical idealist


How the male gets into the female is only one of the many mysteries faced by the boy child. In his naive cosmology, God the Father is at best a remote presence. Presiding over his destiny instead is a figure he calls the Patroness, a composite of the Virgin Mary and his own mother in her youth. “The very purpose of her existence was to remain aloof from me and so to provide me with a task worthy of a lifetime of effort: the simple but baffling task of gaining admission to her presence.” A need to offer up to the female principle some strenuous act of penance becomes one of the deeper motives in Murnane’s writing, animating his novel Inland in particular. As a writer, Murnane is anything but a naive, straightforward realist. Putting down on paper what an Irish Catholic upbringing was like in Australia circa 1950 is not the limit of his ambition.

more from J.M. Coetzee at the NYRB here.