Murray Bail is one of Australia’s most respected and highly accomplished contemporary novelists. In Camouflage, Bail collects fourteen of his stories--all of which have been published previously in two, smaller editions--and demonstrates his talents as a writer of short fiction.
This collection bears all of the marks of Bail’s work in the novel. He is a writer of sharp wit who looks at the contemporary scene through glasses that are somewhat less than rose-colored. In stories like “The Seduction of My Sister” and “Life of the Party,” Bail takes a sharply off-angle glance at Australian suburbia; characters hurl household items over a fence in an elaborate, bizarre game, or watch from treehouses as guests arrive and mingle at a party given by an absent host. There is, indeed, a certain voyeuristic quality to many of Bail’s stories.
Bail is also known as an experimenter with style. He is fond of the self-conscious fiction, of the story which draws attention to itself as story. His narrators announce to readers that they are writing stories; his stories emerge as constructions, as patent fabrications of narrative and language, as in “Cul-de-Sac.” This has much to do with Bail’s perception of life as we know it these days, with the ways in which we construct--ever so awkwardly, at times--our personal worlds.
But Bail is also a writer aware of tradition, and of the Australian tradition. His best-known story, “The Drover’s Wife,” writes back to perhaps the oldest story form in the (white) Australian tradition (the drover’s wife stories), a form that began with Henry Lawson and that has been brought up to date by Bail and his contemporaries. And in stories like “Home Ownership” and “Camouflage,” Bail surveys some of the historical sweep of Australia in the twentieth century, telling more traditional tales of human experience during times of war.
In the end, Bail is a writer intensely interested in articulating the geometry of modern life and culture. Streaks of the absurd, of the hyperreal color that life and culture; we discover much that is slipping away from us in our day-to-day lives. And yet we still occasionally know those moments of magic, of possibility when we lay claim again to the best of the human spirit.