The Great World

by David Malouf

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The Great World

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

Australian writer David Malouf is little known in the United States; it is a relative obscurity made all the more regrettable by the excellence of his latest novel. THE GREAT WORLD is hard to classify and harder still to put down. Part family chronicle, part war story, it is chiefly a novel of great poetic introspection. Ranging widely in time over some sixty years (including two world wars, a depression, and an economic boom) and space (Australia and Southeast Asia), THE GREAT WORLD proves at once vast in scope yet emotionally intense.

THE GREAT WORLD is strangely reminiscent of the short stories of Raymond Carver, whose characters are similarly inarticulate, emotionally as well as often economically down-and-out. Carver crafted a domesticated version of the Beckettian dumb show. Malouf follows a more Joycean course, offering up the richness of his characters’ interior lives. Malouf understands their sense of displacement, their feeling of being “down under” in more than just a geographical sense. And he understands, as they do, that there exists “our other history,” as one character puts it, which Malouf places beside and against the public one. Thus the novel’s title, with its implied sense of wonder, refers both to the world outside Australia (and all places and conditions of similar isolation within the country and without—rural Keen’s Crossing, for example, and the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, or being orphaned or widowed) and within each of the novel’s characters (Digger Keen with his phenomenal memory; Vic Curran with his “rage of frustrated power"; the seemingly simple-minded Jenny Keen with the secret of the son she bore and then gave up forty-three years earlier). What THE GREAT WORLD proves on every one of its mesmerizing pages and in every one of its quietly assured, carefully crafted sentences is what Digger, “dizzied by the world,” comes to realize, that “Even the least event had lines, all tangled going back to the past, and beyond that into the unknown past, and other lines leading out, also tangled, into the future. Every moment was dense with causes, possibilities, consequences; too many, even in the simplest case, to grasp. Every moment was dense too with lives, all crossing and interconnecting or exerting pressure on one another, and not just human lives either.” The beauty of THE GREAT WORLD lies in the intricacy of its interconnected stories, the density of its characters inner lives, and the power of its author’s poetic prose.

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