Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 14, 2014

Sensational Snippets: A Million Windows, by Gerald Murnane

A Million WindowsI am on my second reading of Gerald Murnane’s new book, A Million Windows – and I can’t resist sharing this marvellous metaphor for poetry…

Imagine, if you will,  a ‘house of fiction’ harbouring many writers, who seem to have corralled themselves into different wings of the house.  In one wing no one ‘owns to’ being a poet, but in the adjacent wing there are former poets, who made the transition to writing prose when the ‘winds of fashion’ arose and there ceased to be a craze for ‘declaiming poems in public places’ to ‘cleanse the world’.  These former poets are evasive about the motives for their transition, and the narrator is a bit scornful about them since their poetry was ‘no more than badly punctuated prose arranged in lines of arbitrary length’.

But, there is one former poet who explains his motives thus:

He likens poetry to whisky or gin and prose to beer, which is his only drink.  He says the amount of alcohol in a given volume of beer constitutes a sort of perfect proportion or golden mean whereas whisky and other spirits are akin to poisons, with a potency out of all proportion to their volume.  Poets, he says, are distillers while we writers of prose are brewers, and he strives while he writes to turn out sentence after sentence the meaning of which will keep his reader in a heightened state of awareness for hour after hour whereas the poet that he had once wanted to be might have had his reader fall forward, before long, to the table, seeing double after a surfeit of metaphors.  (p. 109)

*chuckle* I know just what he means.  I’m reading Sappho at the moment, in preparation for my next Masterclass at Melbourne University, where Germaine Greer is the lecturer.

Author: Gerald Murnane
Title: A Million Windows
Publisher: Giramondo, 2014
ISBN: 9781922146533
Source: Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing

Fishpond: A Million Windows
Or direct from Giramondo.



  1. I think I need to read this one … in tomorrow’s Monday musings I’m going to start with a brief reference to the standing of poets! I seem to have read a a couple of books lately where poor poets seem to be on the outer.

    How are you liking Sappho? I’ve never read any of hers, except for small snippets in novels. It will be interesting to hear Greer.


  2. Are you going to explore the Angry Penguins drama? I’ve always wanted to read their stuff but felt I needed to read what it was that they were satirising first, and, well, I never have…
    Sappho is interesting because almost everything is fragments. I’ve bookmarked some that I think are quite lovely, but I am not as yet very excited about her. There’s not even as much extant as the Epic of Gilgamesh (a work which I do find exciting) but I am to discern why the loss of her poetry is a tragedy.
    I mean, how excited would we be about Shakespeare if we only had 2-3 lines of his sonnets and some scraps of his plays? Perhaps *ooh, heresy* the enthusiasm for Sappho is because she’s a rare female among Ancient Greek male poets rather than because her stuff is so profound? Or perhaps I have failed to grasp it.
    But if anyone can deal with my doubts, Greer can!


    • No, it’s really just a thought I had that I will use as an intro to something else far more general.

      Let us/me know what Greer says. Sometimes just surviving does make it worthwhile remembering even if the content perhaps isn’t profound – but it will be interesting to hear if Greer does, with her scholarship, read more into it.


      • I’ll do my best. I can’t wait to see her in person!


  3. I enjoyed your sensational snippet on A Million Windows (which I haven’t read). Are there separate rooms in the ‘house of fiction’ for short story writers and novelists?

    You might find Ivor Indyk’s interview with Murnane interesting. (Part of it is re-produced on the Sydney Review of Books site.) Murnane has some good things to say about his images and writing methods.


    • Hello Dorothy:)
      LOL There are separate wings for all kinds of writers, but the narrator is choosy about who he associates with – nobody goes anywhere near the romance writers, for example.
      I have seen that interview, thank you, I found the link on the Giramondo site. I’ve already linked it on my draft review, but I’m suggesting that people delay viewing it until after reading the book, whereas I think that the one on ABC RN could profitably be viewed before or as a companion to reading the book. It’s not that the Sydney Review one has spoilers – I doubt if anyone reads Murnane for a plot – IMO it’s more that it makes more sense when you’ve read the book.


  4. […] you could tell from the Sensational Snippet that I posted last weekend, Murnane’s House of Fiction with its million windows (a metaphor […]


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