Behold Burton's tomb: mortality and escapism in Murray Bail's homesickness

Ackland, Michael (2011) Behold Burton's tomb: mortality and escapism in Murray Bail's homesickness. Southerly, 71 (3). pp. 23-39.

[img] PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

View at Publisher Website:


[Extract] Whereas the ancients steadfastly acknowledged mortality, contemporaries, as Bail repeatedly shows in Homesickness, are usually bent on repressing or outrunning it. Within the novel their constant movements from land to land, from museum to museum, with never a mention of fixed itinerary or purpose, inevitably raise the question of why they travel. One of them, Borelli, enjoying his own speculative powers and to impress his fellow traveller Louisa, suggests: "Tourism compresses time and events ... In a sense we actually live longer. At least that's what a tourist somehow feels" (83). Later, however, he encounters a less acquiescing listener in his long-lost relative Hector, to whom he rehearses this theory: "there is a time factor to consider. We, ah travellers, operate in a condensed unreal time. For us, even time is summarized" (131). His uncle, building on the time premise and noting an anxiety shared by others in the group, quickly cuts through to the motivation suppressed in this reformulation: "You're nervous. Why else would you be busy making a fool of yourself? For all your travelling about, the fancy hotel rooms, at the end is death. Travelling is postponing it" (135). Homesickness has been most frequently discussed in terms of its "fertile inventiveness", its satirical targets, its modern and postmodern concerns, and its exploration of dilemmas raised by contemporary tourism. Easy to miss within its stunning pageant of extraordinary collections, real and imagined, and its cavalcade of tumultuous events, is a preoccupation with mortality. Although Bail has stated that the book is "really about knowledge or lack of it", as well as "states of mind and speculations which I am offering or complaining about", death remains, as I hope to demonstrate, the intransigent given of the narrative, as it is of human existence. An absence that is ever-present, it is arguably a source of hidden motivation in spheres as disparate as sexual coupling and hotel hygiene, and an unspoken but major concern that drives the tourists' seemingly pointless peregrinations.

Item ID: 25909
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISBN: 978-1-921556-29-6
ISSN: 0038-3732
Related URLs:
Additional Information:

ISBN: 978-1-921556-29-6

Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2013 00:31
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing > 190402 Creative Writing (incl Playwriting) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 16
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page