Mark Binelli in the New York Times:
Goroke, Victoria, a former stagecoach stop in southeastern Australia, pop. 200, is not the sort of place you would expect to host a daylong academic symposium. About five hours from Melbourne by car, the town has the feel of an evacuation nearly complete. Empty storefronts line the main street; the local pub closed two years ago. Drive a few minutes outside Goroke, and the only signs of life arrive at dusk, when the kangaroos emerge from the brush to stare down passers-by from the edge of the road. But last December, about 40 scholars, critics, editors and general readers made the journey for a series of lectures on the work of Gerald Murnane. The author, who has lived in Goroke for the last decade, prefers not to travel, and he had suggested the scholars convene at the local golf club, where he plays a weekly game and also regularly tends bar.
A strong case could be made for Murnane, who recently turned 79, as the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of. Even in his home country, he remains a cult figure; in 1999, when he won the Patrick White Award for underrecognized Australian writers, all his books were out of print. Yet his work has been praised by J.M. Coetzee and Shirley Hazzard, as well as young American writers like Ben Lerner and Joshua Cohen. Teju Cole has described Murnane as “a genius” and a “worthy heir to Beckett.” Last year, Ladbrokes placed his odds at winning the Nobel Prize for Literature at 50 to 1 — better than Cormac McCarthy, Salman Rushdie and Elena Ferrante.
Murnane’s books are strange and wonderful and nearly impossible to describe in a sentence or two. After his third novel, “The Plains,” a fable-like story reminiscent of Italo Calvino published in 1982, Murnane largely turned away from what might be called conventional narrative pleasures. Dispensing almost entirely with plot and character, his later works are essayistic meditations on his own past, a personal mythology as attuned to the epic ordinariness of lost time as Proust, except with Murnane it’s horse races, a boyhood marble collection, Catholic sexual hang-ups and life as a househusband in the suburban Melbourne of the 1970s.