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David Malouf 1934–

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Australian novelist, poet, and short story writer.

Malouf first gained attention for his poetry but has since developed a reputation as a novelist of considerable talent. His work, much of which is set in Australia, is often concerned with the relation of the past to the present and with the human desire to live in harmony with nature. Malouf's fiction and poetry are often marked by memories of childhood and are full of concrete, vivid descriptions of the natural world. Malouf is also intensely interested in the subject of individuals in search of their "hidden," or true, selves. His first novel, Johnno (1977), portrays the spiritual growth and coming of age of two young men who have been friends since childhood. In the novel An Imaginary Life (1978), which has been described as a long prose poem, Malouf speculates on how the Roman poet Ovid might have come to terms with himself and nature during his exile to a village on the Black Sea.

Malouf's poetry, which has not received the critical interest accorded his prose, reflects his belief that "poems are acts of reconciliation." In his verse, Malouf seeks to join the past and the present, the real and the imagined, and the individual with others and with life itself. In spite of mixed opinions as to how well Malouf succeeds, critics admire his ability to capture the beauty and mystique of nature and are pleased by his wit. First Things Last (1981), Malouf's recent collection of poetry, has received a generally favorable critical response. This volume shares with Malouf's other collections and novels an attentiveness to detail and finely drawn, elaborate backgrounds.

Helen Daniel

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

[The] narrative line in Johnno wavers between Johnno and Dante, uncertain of its direction, and by sometimes leaping across periods of several years that seem to have worked significant changes in Johnno or Dante, fails to sustain the development of either as a wholly convincing character. (p. 192)

In Johnno, the narrator is at times observer, duly recording the activities of the observed with the detachment this implies; he is at times directly engaged with Johnno so that their interaction is foremost; at other times Dante seems almost the central figure in whose experience Johnno is a striking but only periodic element. The uncertainty reflected in these different impulses works against the vigour often felt in the portrayal of Johnno himself, particularly in the sections of the novel set in Europe. Malouf does suggest the expatriate search for meaning against what Johnno and Dante both conceive as a stifling and narrow Brisbane, but this period in their lives is broken into isolated sequences and the pace slows. Dante reports increasing bitterness in Johnno, a more aimless and dissolute life, a forced quality to his exuberance…. The nature of the change is not fully realized because there are only glimpses of Johnno during this period, the narrative seeming more attentive to Dante here. (pp. 193-94)

The novel somewhat unsteadily moves towards Johnno's death, through Dante's musing on conventional married life and through Johnno's enigmatic explanation of his return to Australia…. Johnno's death is "aesthetically apt" and Dante's awareness of this overrides the subdued guilt he feels at having not cared enough for Johnno, not realized Johnno's need of him…. Johnno's baulking at the "narrow certainties" of an ordered, conventional world, his feeling of oppression and diminution, does not … emerge from an explicitly realized society that is scathingly exposed. The novel does rather focus on an attempt to distil a more meaningful existence, through fantasy. It establishes fantasy for Johnno as a defining of him and "Maybe, in the...

(The entire section contains 5772 words.)

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Malouf, David (Vol. 86)