Morality at bay: the lesson of the Americas in Murray Bail's Homesickness Ackland, Michael

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Ackland, Michael
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Short stories, Australian; Authors, Australian; Australian fiction
[Extract] For four decades Murray Bail's writing has been at the forefront of inventive and intellectual challenging Australian fiction, yet his preoccupations remain elusive, his works enigmatic. Born in Adelaide on 22 September 1941, Bail grew up under what he considered the intensely conservative, philistine government of R. G. Menzies, served (like Peter Carey) an apprenticeship in advertising, then switched to full-time creative writing during the 1970s. His first book, Contemporary Portraits and Other Stories (1975), signalled the arrival of a major talent, an expectation matched by subsequent award-winning novels, such as Homesickness and Eucalyptus.These later works appeared at long intervals, often of a decade, which supported Bail's claim to be not only a bold, original writer, but also a painfully slow and meticulous craftsman. His work, however, has often been accused of inventiveness for its own sake, or of displaying a pronounced ludic tendency that overwhelms, and at times trumps, any quest for larger meaning. This charge was levelled in particular at his breakthrough novel of 1980, Homesickness. Built around a stunning cavalcade of visits to foreign museums, real and imagined, the book seems to invite, even demand exegesis, but connecting its disparate episodes, and pinpointing an informing design, has proven to be extraordinarily difficulty.
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