David Malouf Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Because literary recognition came to him first for his verse collections, for quite some time David Malouf (mah-LOOF) was regarded primarily as a poet. His first published writings were poetry, and in addition to contributions to works featuring several authors, efforts such as Neighbours in a Thicket (1974), Wild Lemons (1980), First Things Last (1981), and Typewriter Music (2007) have sustained his reputation in this genre. Some critics have discerned varying levels of sophistication when his earlier verse is compared with his later verse.

Malouf has also experimented with the writing of short stories, an autobiographical narrative, and drama. His stories “Eustace” (1982) and “The Prowler” (1982) concern isolated and apparently unsociable characters who seem misplaced yet oddly adapted to Australian settings. The collection Antipodes (1985) comprises short stories that in the main deal with the troubles of immigrants and problems of adjustment in Australia as well as the culturally ambivalent situation of Australians in Europe. Malouf set down some of the personal sources behind themes and images in his fiction with the publication of 12 Edmondstone Street (1985), a memoir that deals in part with the writer’s childhood years in Brisbane and in part, somewhat impressionistically, with his work and travel during the 1980’s. In addition, he has written librettos for several operas, including Voss (pr. 1986), based on Patrick White’s novel, and Jane Eyre (pb. 2000), based on Charlotte Brontë’s novel. He has explored another line of creative interest with his play Blood Relations (pr., pb. 1988).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Many of David Malouf’s works have won awards in his native country. In 1970, he published Bicycle, and Other Poems, for which he won the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal. For the poetry collection Neighbours in a Thicket, he received the Grace Leven Prize and the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal as well as an award from the James Cook University of North Queensland. He held an Australian Council fellowship in 1978, and his novel An Imaginary Life won the New South Wales Premier’s Fiction Award in 1979. The short novel The Bread of Time to Come (published in Great Britain as Fly Away Peter) won two awards presented by the publication The Age in 1982, and his fiction was again honored with the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal in 1983.

Malouf received the Victoria Premier’s Award in 1985 for his short stories, and his play Blood Relations received the New South Wales Premier’s Award for drama. The Great World received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Miles Franklin Award in 1991 as well as the French Prix Femina Étranger. Remembering Babylon, which had already won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award in 1993 and been short-listed for the 1994 Booker Prize, won the inaugural IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June, 1996. In 2000, Malouf was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In addition to such honors, Malouf frequently has been considered an important literary spokesman for his country, and much of his writing has been regarded as significant in indicating new trends in creative work.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brittan, Alice. “B-b-british Objects: Possession, Naming, and Translation in David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon.” Publications of the Modern Language Association 117 (October, 2002): 1158-1171. Focuses on the relationships between names and objects, racial violence on the Australian frontier, and the nature of commerce in a cashless society in Malouf’s novel.

Doty, Kathleen, and Riston Hiltunen. “The Power of Communicating Without Words—David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life and Remembering Babylon.” Antipodes 10 (1996): 99-105. Draws comparisons between the two novels, stressing how Malouf employs nonverbal experiences to construct human identity. Written by linguists, the article is dense but rewarding.

Indyk, Ivor. David Malouf. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993. A short but substantial and original discussion of Malouf’s essays, poetry, and fiction through The Great World. Places emphasis on An Imaginary Life as the pivotal work. Notes the absence of strong female characters in the fiction and explores the question of homosexual desire as a subversive theme. Extensive bibliography.

Nettelbeck, Amanda, ed. Provisional Maps: Critical Essays on David Malouf. Nedlands: University of Western Australia, 1994. A good collection of essays on Malouf’s work.

Nielsen, Philip. Imagined Lives: A Study of David Malouf. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1996. Offers a detailed study of Malouf’s poetry and fiction through Remembering Babylon. Intended for students, the book provides extensive interpretations of each novel. Includes detailed primary and secondary bibliographies and biographical details.

Taylor, Andrew. “Origin, Identity, and the Body in David Malouf’s Fiction.” Australian Literary Studies 19 (May, 1999): 3-14. Looks at several of Malouf’s works, commenting especially on Malouf’s use of Australian history.

Willbanks, Ray. “Interview with David Malouf.” In Australian Voices. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Malouf talks about his approach to writing, especially fiction, and reveals how the ideas came for various novels through The Great World. Includes a full discussion of the genesis of An Imaginary Life as well as Malouf’s use of autobiographical materials. An excellent introduction to Malouf and his work.

World Literature Today 74 (Autumn, 2000). The issue is devoted to Malouf’s work, including seven essays on his work, a select bibliography, a chronology of his life, and an appreciation.