Wednesday, March 10, 2010

David Malouf

I read one of David Malouf's books, Dream Stuff. I didn't like it, but it might have been because it's a short story collection. I don't often like short stories.

Now I can't even remember what any of the short stories are about.

Oh well.

I might try one of Malouf's novels someday. I might like those better.

Lord Wiki says that Baby David was born in Brisbane on 20 March 1934. His father was Christian-Lebanese, and his mother was a Portuguese Sephardi Jew.

As a child, he liked to read. Well, that's not too surprising. I would hope most writers liked to read when they were children.

Malouf went to Brisbane Grammar School; then he went off to the University of Queensland. Lord Wiki says Malouf then taught at his old school. I'm not sure if he's talking about Brisbane Grammar, or the University of Queensland. Maybe he's referring to both. He says, He taught at his old school and lectured in English at the Universities of Queensland and Sydney. Yeah, that sounds like both to me.

In the last thirty years, Malouf has split his time between England, Sydney, and Tuscany.

Okay, now we get to the career stuff.

His first novel was published in 1975. That was Johnno. It's a World War II coming of age type tale that takes place in Brisbane. Noolabeulah has a post about it on her/his blog. From what Noolabeulah says, it seems the coming of age doesn't just happen to the humans, but also to Brisbane. He/she says that Brisbane was about to lose its particular ragged charm and become a modern city just like any other.

It seems the book is about a writer named Dante dealing with the death of his childhood friend, Johnno. Not long before he died, Johnno sent a letter to Dante saying, I've spent years writing letters to you and you never answer, even when you write back. I've loved you - and you've never given a fuck for me, except as a character in one of your funny stories.

I might have to read this book because I love that excerpt. In some ways, I can really relate to it—that feeling of not being answered. I pour out my heart to people. Sometimes they simply don't write back. My email is ignored. Then other times, they write back, but it seems they didn't even read what I said. It's so frustrating to me.

I got an email like that this morning. Someone had asked how a particular thing was going in my life. I actually had some very positive news about it, so I eagerly shared the little bit of information. They wrote back without one bit of acknowledgment of what I said. There was no oh, that's great, or it sounds like you're on the right track. They just threw more advice at me. I don't know. I guess my good news wasn't good enough for them.

Lord Wiki says that Johnno is semi-autobiographical. Malouf himself had a friend that died.

Malouf's next book came out in 1978. It was a novella called An Imaginary Life. That sounds a little familar to me. I'm not sure if I've heard of it before or if I've seen another novel with the same title. Well, no. I'm not seeing a lot of books on with the same title.

Lord Wiki says the book is about a Roman poet who befriends a boy that was raised by wolves. There are situations in it that symbolize the relationship between white and black people in Australia. The poet captures the child, and tries to both learn from him and teach him. Maybe it could be like Arthur Phillip kidnapping Bennelong. And I'm sure there are other stories like that as well.

You know, I'm looking at Lord Wiki's lists here. There's novels, short stories, poetry, nonfiction, etc. Since I don't really like short stories and poetry, I think I'm going to skip those, and just concentrate on the novels. I might look at the nonfiction stuff depending on how tired I am.

Anyway, the next novels came out in 1982. There was two....Fly Away Peter and Child's Play. Lord Wiki has much to say about Fly Away Peter, but nothing to say about Child's Play. I guess one's more popular than another.

Fly Away Peter takes place during the first world war. It begins with a man living in an idyllic existence in the Gold Coast of Queensland. Then he's pressured to enlist in the war, and experiences awful things. Lord Wiki says there's Garden of Eden symbolism in the novel. Queensland is the garden. The war is hell. That's pretty cool.

Child's Play is about this single mom raising her son. They buy a doll, and it turns out the doll is possessed by a serial killer.

Okay, maybe that's the wrong Child's Play. A Random House website says the book takes place in Italy. They say, Weaving a dense tapestry of sensual observation and personal events of mythic importance, he re-creates the frighteningly fascinating mind of a madman poised at his moment of truth. I don't know if I like dense tapestries of sensual observations. I translate that to mean the writer gives excessive details about setting and all that. I'm not a huge fan of those types of books. I mean I do like SOME descriptions but not too much.

I do like crazy people and moments of truth, though.

A reviewer on Amazon provides a little more information about the actual plot of the novel. She says it's about an assassin, waiting to commit a murder. Oh. Maybe it would be a good companion book to Peter Kocan's novels. Malouf writes about before the assassination, and Kocan writes about what happens afterwards.

In 1984, Malouf published Harland's Half-Acre. The New York Times has a review of it. They have the first sentence of the book, and I really like it. Named like so much else in Australia for a place on the far side of the globe that its finders meant to honour and were piously homesick for, Killarney bears no resemblance to its Irish original. I'm sure that rings true in many ways. It's funny how so much in Australia has the same name as places in the UK. We were looking at a map of London because of our upcoming trip there. It's funny to see Hyde Park and Paddington; and I'm sure there are other examples like that. Often when doing research for this blog, I'll look up a street, school, town, city, etc. and find the UK version rather than the Australian one.

I shouldn't pick on Australia, though. America has the same thing, really. We have Soho, and...well, New York itself. If there's a new York, there must be an old York.

I'm sure there are tons of examples like that in America and Australia....and other countries.

Back to the novel. It's about a painter.....

In all honesty, the rest of the review is hard for me to read. I think it's too intelligent for my little brain. While reading it, I feel the same way I felt when I tried to read Malouf's short stories. Maybe Malouf and his fans are just not on the same page as me. Really. I'm looking at the reviewers on They use such flowery prose. It's just not my thing. I think Malouf would probably be better enjoyed by people who like poetry. For the most part, I'm less interested in the words people use and more interested in the story itself. That doesn't make sense in a way; well, because the words create the story. Or maybe I should say the words communicate the story. It's just I don't usually pay that much attention to the actual words and the brilliance of how the writer has put his sentences together. I just want to sit there, read, and get lost in the story.

Yeah. At this point, I'm becoming skeptical of my chances that I'll like Malouf's novels. Although I did like that one first sentence from the Harland Acre thing.

In 1990, Malouf wrote The Great World. Amazon says it's about two men who meet when they're Japanese prisoners of war. Some of the reviewers here seem to almost worship Malouf. One guy  says, Mr. Malouf is a gifted communicator, creator, and conjurer. I am even tempted to use literary alchemist for he does not just take words and arrange them, he selects words, assembles them with care and thought, and truly creates writing that is altogether new. I'm not 100% sure what that means, but it sounds impressive.

I'm beginning to feel I'm somewhat defective here....not loving Malouf's book. But maybe I WILL like his novels, and I'll too see him as a magician of words. Then I won't feel so alienated.

Is this how people feel when they don't like Harry Potter? Although I find that most people who dislike Harry Potter haven't even read Harry Potter. They just dislike the hype.

I'm going to feed us some lunch, and then I'll get back to work....

I'm back.

In 1993, Malouf published Remembering Babylon. Lord Wiki describes the plot, and it seems a lot like the experiences of William Buckley. Although it seems the white character in this is a child. He's a British boy who ends up being raised by Aborigines. Then white settlers appear, and he tries to fit back in with them.

I might have read about this book before, for some reason. And I vaguely remember hearing that Malouf doesn't mention Australia. Maybe it's a different island and a different type of Aborigine?

No. Amazon says it's about Australia. Maybe I'm thinking of another book?

In 1996, Malouf published The Conversations at Curlow Creek. Lord Wiki says it's about two Australians who share a common heritage. They're both Irish. One is an officer, and the other is a bushranger. The story takes place the night before the bushranger is about to be hanged. The two men have some interesting conversations.

The book sounds pretty good, although Lord Wiki gave away the ending. I need to be careful about what I read from that guy.

In 1999, Malouf published Untold Tales. Well, according to this website, it's a short story collection. Lord Wiki put it in the wrong place. What's wrong with you, Lord Wiki?

Unless Lord Wiki also accidentally put a novel in the wrong place, it looks like Malouf didn't write another one for thirteen years. Then in 2009, he published Ransom. Amazon says it's a retelling of the Iliad. That's probably not something I'd be very interested in.

I'm making myself sound very uncultured here. Sorry.

Lord Wiki has a link to a 2007 ABC interview with Malouf. I'll read that.

It looks like he's promoting a new book of poems. The interviewer says this is Malouf's first book of poetry in twenty-six years. That's a pretty long time. Malouf says though that although he hasn't published a BOOK of poetry in a long time, he has published poems.

Well, the interview is all about poetry. I don't know what I like less....reading about poetry or cricket. How about poetry ABOUT cricket? Now THAT would be pure torture for me!

Here's another interview. Maybe something in this one will be interesting to me.

Well, here's something. Malouf talks about time, and how a novelist can stop or slow down it down. He says, You can slow up the narrative so that a second is something that can be explored maybe over pages. It's funny how two novels can be around the same length. One might cover several years, and another might deal with just a single weekend.

Malouf talks about endings. He says, I think I'm always working towards the ending and I often, in shaping the novel, have no idea what's going to happen in the middle. But I do know what the ending will be. I know some writers plan more than others. They have it all planned out in detail—the beginning, middle, and end. Others have a more general idea, and then work from there.

I remember reading that Stephen King doesn't do outlines. He starts a book or series not knowing what's going to happen to his characters. I personally think it works well for him. I'm definitely a fan of Stephen King. I can't ever remember being unhappy with the way one of his books turned out.

On the other hand, I feel it's not working very well for the writers of Lost. I think the problem is they're dealing with mysteries. And when it comes to writing about mysteries, my feeling is it's best if the writer knows the answers before they begin writing.

If I decide to write a story about a house with mysterious things happening it it, I need to know why and how it's happening. Otherwise, I won't provide the proper clues. Let's say I don't know. I just randomly throw out weird things. One night, my protagonist hears a baby crying. Why? Because baby ghosts are so eerie, and it makes my story properly spooky. Then at the end, I decide the mysterious happenings are due to an old man who was murdered by his brother. What about the baby? Ah, let's just pretend the baby thing never happened.

Maybe the reason it works for Stephen King and not Lost is this: If you're writing a book, you can always go back and delete/change things that don't fit with the ending. You can edit, before the book is published. When you're dealing with six seasons of a TV show, you can't go back and erase things. The writers can't say Well, I don't really know how Walt and his powers fit into everything. Let's get rid of that storyline.

You can't do that. It's already out there.

Stephen King did probably have the same challenges when he did the book series though—The Dark Tower. From what I remember hearing, he wrote each book and published it without knowing how the series would end. I'm guessing he probably had some loose ends. I can't remember if I noticed any, or not.

I should get back to Malouf.....

He says he likes comedy but feels tragedy is more like real life. I disagree. I think life is a mixture of comedy and tragedy. Bad things happen. We cry. Then we survive, and we laugh again. Well, sometimes people don't survive. It all goes downhill for them. So for some folks, tragedy IS the reality. But for other people, their life is more about comedy.

Each of our lives could probably be compared to a style of novel. I think for the most part, I have a chick-lit type life or maybe more literary....literary without excessive flowery prose. My 2008 was very much a literary novel. My 1990 was a medical-drama novel. 2004-2007 would probably be New Age fiction. My later childhood and teens were very Judy Blume, or maybe more Lois Lowry (Anastasia Krupnik stuff...not The Giver!)

Other people have very tragic lives filled with poverty, disease, and hopelessness. There's very little humor.

Anyway, I think I've had enough of learning about Malouf for now. I'll probably try reading one of his novels, though. Hopefully, I'll like it more than his short stories. I kind of doubt it.


  1. It is definitely a mix of tragedy and comedy.

    Hey! I had a dream about you last night! ha ha ha

    I'll write about it later (have some urgent chores that need doing). But I thought I'd tease you anyway this morning.

    It was really great btw (and PG. well G for that matter) AND - it had something to do with your beloved Australia.
    That's all I'm going to say.


  2. HappyOrganist,

    Awesome!!!! I can't wait to read about it. And thanks to your subconscious for including Australia.

    I dreamed I was writing on my blog, and suddenly I realized there was this long paragraph or so, that I didn't remember writing. I started realizing I had a ghost. It would do crazy things like light candles in the house. I wanted Tim to see the ghost so he'd take it all seriously. I didn't like being the only one having the weird encounters.

  3. That's fun. I take it that wasn't a scary ghost dream?

  4. HappyOrganist,

    It wasn't terrifying, but this probably wasn't a Casper the Ghost type personality. I think I was sure if he/she was good or bad. But I think I was mostly annoyed at having to go through it all alone. I wanted someone else (Tim) to be haunted with me.