Title: The Pages
Author: Murray Bail
Release Date: August 17, 2010
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Erica Hazlehurst is a philosopher working at a university in Sydney, when she gets a somewhat odd directive: she is to go to a remote area of Australia, to a farm, where the collected papers of one Wesley Antill are stored. She’s to see if they have any philosophical merit. Erica brings along her friend Sophie, and they journey to the Antill family farm, where Wesley’s siblings still live.
The Pages is an interesting little novel that focuses on the meaning of philosophy. What is philosophy, and what makes it? How can you create a philosophy, much less go through someone else’s notes and try to reconstruct theirs? It’s an interesting meditation, and Bail poses these questions very well.
The setting of The Pages is so relevant in the novel, it’s almost a character in and of itself. Erica travels from the bustling hub of Sydney to the remote Antill farm. It is starkly beautiful, but so different than what Erica is used to. As a result, it’s almost a shock to her senses; she must adjust to life there before being able to fully understand Wesley’s work. Bail writes about the landscape beautifully and tenderly, with such vivid language that it becomes a clear picture in the reader’s mind.
Erica’s character really begins to develop toward the end of the book, as she reads more and more of Wesley’s philosophy, as do the relationships between the four characters. It’s a shame, then, that the novel is so short as it leaves the reader wanting more. A longer more in depth work would have been welcome, yet its current length gives the novel a stark quality. It’s hard to say that a longer novel would have been better, yet there is something unsatisfying about The Pages in its present state.
The Pages was an interesting and contemplative novel that I recommend to fans of literary fiction, especially if you are interested in the construction and mechanics of philosophy. I’m eager to go back and read Bail’s previous novel, Eucalyptus, while I wait patiently for his next book!