David Malouf: An Introduction

Jörg Heinke, University of Kiel, Germany

Although born and raised in Australia, David Malouf is greatly interested in Europe. Especially the problem of Australia's position and attitude towards Europe is often found in his novels. For Malouf Australia definitely belongs to the European civilisation and tradition. In defiance of the problems European immigrants had and have in Australia he refers to a translated Europe onto Australian conditions rather than a transplanted Europe. Malouf focuses on Europe are often connected with the subject of war. In Fly away Peter, The Great World, Johnno and Remembering Babylon war is seen as a moment of defining Australia's identity by asking questions about the background of Australians who went to war for other countries. This way of emancipation form the old continent always goes parallel with the notion of being at the edge of things.

David Malouf often tells his stories not only from the Australian edge and with a look for the centre but also about people who live at the fringes of society, and aim at a secure position inside. The motif of the edge is personified by criminals (The Child's Play, Conversations at Curlow Creek), soldiers (The Great World, Conversations at Curlow Creek, Fly away Peter), poor or socially neglected people (Harland's Half Acre, Remembering Babylon, An Imaginary Life, The Great World). All of these characters share the notion of movement. Johnno (Johnno), Gemmy (RG), Ovid (An Imaginary Life) all have the feeling of not belonging to the place where they momentarily are. The places and themselves somehow do not fit together. Therefore they are permanently moving -- physically and/or in mind. They aim at the centre but don't know where the centre is. In Johnno's case his failure to find anything which might look like a centre leads to his mysterious death, in Gemmy's (Remembering Babylon) and Ovid's (An Imaginary Life) case their search opens new perspectives for them. The path towards answers in David Malouf's novels can be characterised by the operation of opposing pairs like Australia vs. Europe, edge vs. centre, nature vs. culture, self vs. other. Especially the last pair is often personified by two -- mostly male -- characters (Johnno and Dante (Johnno), Carney and Adair (Conversations at Curlow Creek), Gemmy and Lachlan (Remembering Babylon) ...). Although opposing, David Malouf sees those sets of characters as possibilities of one character. He employs the difference -- yet similarities -- as a way of expressing change. While one person may remain static the other one develops. Both aspects, difference and familiarity between his characters evoke now possibilities of perception and understanding. As Taylor suggests, Malouf can be regarded as a postmodern romantic who re-acts with his writing on a world in which civilisation and technology suppress the naturalness of man. He re-discovers in his work the close link between man and na-ture and puts this into a thoroughly chose shape of words.

David Malouf can also be described as a post-colonial author. As he looks at Australia not from an outside point of view but from within society. In his writing he points to the problems of indigenous and immigrated people in Australia, shows the limits of traditional languages to fit a new environment and also indicates to the relation between cultural centres and peripheries which is closely combined with a strong sense of being antipodean. Comparing his work with earlier Australian literature one can see that Malouf also uses topics of Australian history in his books (early settlers, 1st and 2nd World War, life in the bush and in the city) but he looks at those events from different angles and reaches a varied view of the world.


This document has been adapted by kind permission of the author from his Malouf website in Germany. You can contact Jörg Heinke at heinke@pclab-phil.uni-kiel.de or visit his personal home page.


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