Homesickness (1980) – Murray BAIL

I have tried to read this book about three times in the last three years. Each time, I’ve read about ten pages, and given up. Which is a shame, ’cause I loved Bail’s later work Eucalyptus, that doomed film with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. I think I’m glad it didn’t get made – Bail’s novels would not make very good films, I think. But enough about his famous work. Homesickness is Bail’s first novel, so despite his popularity and fame as a genius short story writer, I much prefer a good novel to sink my teeth into. And, I finally read it fully. So go me.

Homesickness is the story of thirteen people who have never met before. They have all been pushed together on a world tour, and together, must try to deal with the differences and similarities that every tourist must face when they leave the comfort of their own home. From the traditional married couple to the communist, the young naive girl to the wife beater, each of these characters provides a fascinating look at how people react to the changing world around them, in places they would normally never visit.

Murray Bail is a brilliant writer. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into this book. I don’t know what I was on. Maybe I was too young. Who knows. The point is, I’m an idiot. The language that fills this book is some of the most beautiful and evocative I have ever read. Eucalyptus comes a close second. I should stop mentioning that book. This book pulls off the unenviable task of having to try and recreate six different countries in a way that makes them all seem different, yet somehow similar at the same time. And Bail does it brilliantly. Each place they visit – Africa, London, Quito, New York, Russia – are all clearly different, yet there is somehow a sameness that runs through the book. Genius.

The other thing that I really love in this book is its museums. While Bail could very easily (and justifiably) treated a large number of his characters with contempt, he doesn’t. Each visit by these people is dominated by a visit to a museum of some kind – no doubt a subtle(-ish) message to all of those potential tourists who read this book wanting to do nothing but see everything that ‘has to be seen’ wherever they are going – and while there is the occasional moment of realisation for these characters that they are doing something highly superficial, for the most part not even we as readers are even aware of it. Though, there is one character who takes photos of everything. He’s there for a little knowing comic relief. Each museum is carefully chosen to represent an ‘intrinsic’ part of each country – New York’s museum is about marriage, while Quito’s is about feet (it makes perfect sense in the book) – and despite this, you still sometimes get the feeling that these tourists are still not quite getting ‘it’. Some of these scenes in Russia, in Lenin’s tomb, are downright hilarious – with the Cold War in full swing, some pretty naive Australians from whoop-whoop are saying some pretty dumb things.

The only criticism that I feel I should mention is that some of the passages begin to drag – especially in the middle. Maybe I’d just been reading too much of it at once. But enough of that. I could talk about this book for hours, and how wonderful it is. I won’t though. Suffice to say, I really like this book. Everyone needs to go out and read it. Now. Especially if, like me, you’ve done a bit of travelling. I suspect some of the jokes and ironies are there for people who have spent time travelling, whether it be on a bus, or some more ‘dirty’ exploring.

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3 thoughts on “Homesickness (1980) – Murray BAIL

  1. […] Sydney and Europe, continuing Bail’s interest in Australians overseas, as in his first novel, Homesickness. His experiences with philosophy, and how it affects and changes him are interesting, with Bail […]

  2. […] in Sydney and Europe, continuing Bails interest in Australians overseas, as in his first novel, Homesickness. His experiences with philosophy, and how it affects and changes him are interesting, with Bail […]

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