Review: The Pages by Murray Bail
Title: The Pages
Author: Bail, Murray
Length: 196 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Other Press / 2010
Release Date: August 17th, 2010
Source: From the publisher at Book Expo America
Why I Read It: It sounded really intriguing.
Date Read: 09/08/10
This book is a clear example of how I find I have to match books to my reading moods. I picked it up about a month prior to reading it but it just wasn’t doing it for me, so I put it back in the pile. When I picked it up again last week I absolutely loved it!
The Pages is a difficult novel to describe. It is quite short, at only 196 pages in the review copy, and it covers quite a bit, but it never seems rushed or hurried. The story starts with two women driving from Sydney to the middle of the country. The two women, Erica and Sophie, are quite different from one another, but are good friends. Erica is a philosopher and Sophie is a psychologist. Erica has been asked to review the work of a recently deceased philosopher who wanted his work published after he died. Sophie is coming along as she was just dumped and is feeling low. They head up to the Anthill homestead where they are to board with the siblings of the philosopher, Lindsey and Roger.
The book starts with the beginning of their journey saying:
At dawn – what a word: the beginning of the world all over again – the two women set out from Sydney in a small car, as other people were slowly going about their tasks, or at least beginning to stir, producing a series of overlapping movements and stoppages, awakenings and false dawns, framed by the glass of the car.
They were city women. Comfortably seated and warm they were hoping to experience the unexpected, an event or a person, preferably person, to enter and alter their lives.
The second thread of the story is that of Wesley Anthill, the philosopher whose papers Erica is going to check over. We hear about his time and his search for his philosophy of emotions and what has happened to him in his life. It was curious to follow his story and wonder what would happen next.
In addition to these two threads, the author also intersperses the book with discussions of philosophy versus psychology, the conditions necessary for philosophy to grow, and how psychoanalysis is prevalent in Sydney (and which Sophie is of course a part of). In the first such aside we see the following, on page 8:
Sydney of course is one of the nicest places under the sun … For the first fifty years there was only a handful of books in the entire country. Other missing ingredients were slavery, or an imbalance of religion and superstition in daily life, or else a collective stammering of the self, a general mood of darkness and obscurity, and some would include a cold climate, all of which have in earlier times turned people to philosophy for answers. By the time Sydney passed through and built upon its original settlement and began standing on its own two feet, philosophers, if there were any, found hardly any problems left for them to tackle.
This might sound confusing and unconnected due to the separate threads of the narrative, but let me just say that it is brilliantly written. The book was incredible and I highly recommend it.
Through Erica and Sophie we see the interactions of friends. Sophie talks a lot and is always trying to analyze people. Erica is a very thoughtful person in that she thinks about things a lot rather than talking out loud, and worries that people will see her as hard or cold. On page 7 we see a description of her that includes the following:
These experiences passed through her, as did time, and in contemplation and possible measure of this she drew near to what has been called “thinking about thinking.” The trouble was: she was excluding everybody else.
I really liked the interactions between the women and the other characters and the way that the philosophy and psychology discussions came to play through them. The Wesley side of the story didn’t intrigue me a much, but it was still really interesting. It wasn’t until the end that everything really tied together and made sense. It was definitely a great read and I’m glad I came back to it when I did.