The Pages

Murray Bail

Vintage 2009
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
Autodidact Wesley Anthill, having wandered Sydney and Europe, returned to his family farm, which his brother and sister managed while he worked on his philosophy. When he dies, a philosopher from Sydney, Erica, drives out to see if there's anything of value in his work, accompanied by a psychoanalyst friend.

Interspersed with her story are fragments of Wesley's, describing his life in Sydney and then his time in London and Europe. These are in a mix of third and first person, the latter sections perhaps taken from the pages Erica finds in the shearing-shed he converted into a study.

Both their stories are scattered with ideas about philosophy, but these never go anywhere, with Erica failing to find a masterwork in Wesley's papers and The Pages ending with a few pages of Wittgenstein-like aphorisms. What plot lines there are are equally unfinished: there are tensions in old friendships, the opportunity for new ones, and a hint at a possible romance.

This is not a disappointment, however, as The Pages is just not the kind of novel that raises expectations of clean, simple outcomes. It is more like an impressionist painting, with dabs of colour evoking ideas, people and places. Bail has the ability to capture something of landscapes and personalities in a few sentences or even just a phrase — and something even of the trajectories of change, psychological and intellectual and existential.

September 2010

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%T The Pages
%A Bail, Murray
%I Vintage
%D 2009
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780099524281
%P 199pp