Malouf, David 1934–

views updated

Malouf, David 1934–

(George Joseph David Malouf)

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Ma-louf"; born March 20, 1934, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; son of George and Welcome (Mendoza) Malouf. Education: University of Queensland, B.A. (with honors), 1954. Politics: Socialist.

ADDRESSES: Home—53 Myrtle St., Chippendale, New South Wales 2008, Australia. Agent—Rogers, Coleridge & White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11, England; and Barbara Mobbs, P.O. Box 126, Edgecliff, New South Wales 2027, Australia.

CAREER: University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, assistant lecturer in English, 1955–57; St. Anselm's College, Birkenhead, England, schoolmaster, 1962–68; University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, senior tutor, then lecturer in English, 1968–77. Member of literature board, Australia Council, 1972–74.

AWARDS, HONORS: Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, and Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, both 1974, and James Cook University of North Queensland Award, Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, all 1975, all for Neighbours in a Thicket: Poems; Australian Council fellowship, 1978; New South Wales Premier's Fiction Award, 1979, for An Imaginary Life; Age Book of the Year Award and Award for Fiction, both 1982, both for Fly away Peter; Victorian Premier's Award, 1985, for Antipodes; New South Wales Premier's Drama Award, 1987, for Blood Relations; Miles Franklin Award, Commonwealth Prize for Fiction, and Prix Femina Étranger, all 1991, all for The Great World; Dublin/IMPAC Literary Award, 1996, Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, and Booker Prize nomination, all 1994, all for Remembering Babylon.


(With others) Four Poets: David Malouf, Don Maynard, Judith Green, Rodney Hall, Cheshires, 1962.

Bicycle and Other Poems, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1970, published as The Year of the Foxes and Other Poems, Braziller (New York, NY), 1979.

(Coeditor) We Took Their Orders and Are Dead: An Anti-War Anthology, Ure Smith, 1971.

Neighbours in a Thicket: Poems, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1974.

Johnno (novel), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1975, Braziller (New York, NY), 1978.

(Editor) Gesture of a Hand (anthology of Australian poetry), Holt (New South Wales, Australia), 1975.

Poems, 1975–1976, Prism (Sydney, Australia), 1976.

An Imaginary Life (novel), Braziller (New York, NY), 1978.

(With Katharine Brisbane and R.F. Brissenden) New Currents in Australian Writing, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1978.

Wild Lemons (poems), Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1980.

First Things Last (poems), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1981.

Selected Poems, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1981.

Child's Play [and] The Bread of Time to Come (novellas), Braziller, 1981, The Bread of Time to Come published as Fly away Peter, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1982, Vintage (New York, NY), 1998.

Child's Play [and] "Eustace" [and] "The Prowler," Chatto & Windus, 1982.

Harland's Half Acre (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Twelve Edmondstone Street (memoir), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1985.

Antipodes (short stories), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1985.

Blood Relations (play), Currency Press, 1988.

David Malouf: Johnno, Short Stories, Poems, Essays, and Interview (selected works), edited by James Tulip, University of Queensland Press, (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia) 1990.

The Great World (historical novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1990, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1990.

Selected Poems, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1991.

Poems 1959–89, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1992.

Remembering Babylon (historical novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1993.

Conversations at Curlow Creek, Thorndike Press (Thorndike, ME), 1997.

(With others)The Fox and the Magpie, Boosey and Hawkes (London, England), 1998.

A Spirit of Play: The Making of Australian Consciousness, ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Company, 1998.

Untold Tales (short stories), Paper Bark, 1999.

Dream Stuff (short stories), Pantheon (New York, NY), 2000.

Also author of opera librettos, including Voss, 1986; La Mer de Glace, 1991; and Baa Baa Black Sheep, 1993. Contributor to periodicals, including Australian, New York Review of Books, Poetry Australia, Southerly, and Sydney Morning Herald.

SIDELIGHTS: A prize-winning poet before he published his first novel, David Malouf was born and raised in Australia, lived for some years in Italy, and now resides in his native country. Many critics believe Malouf writes as comfortably about cosmopolitan Europe as he does about his childhood home, and the author's favored themes and literary devices also traverse his poetry and prose. Reviewers have praised the vivid, sensuous descriptions and evocative settings of his works, throughout which Malouf weaves an awareness of the distinct cultures and the diverse characters within them. In his poetry, short fiction, and novels such as An Imaginary Life, Remembering Babylon, and The Great World, Malouf often combines the past, present, and future to create an all-inclusive, multidirectional point of reference. Interested in dualities that repel and compel, Malouf searches, within his fiction, for perfect unities with nature.

Fleur Adcock commented in a Times Literary Supplement review of Malouf's 1980 poetry collection, First Things Last, that the author "has a strong visual consciousness with a sense of joyful absorption in the natural world which makes the overworked word 'celebration' irresistible." Malouf revels in nature's various forms—from paradisiacal gardens to wilderness, from life in the ocean to wild lemon trees—and searches for harmonies with the natural world. For example, in "The Crab Feast" the poet searches for crabs so that he can ingest, embody, and join with them. Music harmonizes with nature as well, and in the poem "An die Musik," man, music, and nature integrate: "We might have known it always: music/is the landscape we move through in our dreams," Adcock quoted the poet.

In First Things Last Malouf experiments with time, creating a present contemporaneously with the past and future. As Adcock explained: "In an elegy for his father he writes of the dead being buried in the living and looking out through their eyes, as do the not yet born." And in the poem "Deception Bay" Malouf writes of his ancestors viewing the future through the eyes of the present generation. Malouf has also experimented with prose-poetry and other free-verse forms, although he generally emphasizes content more than technique. Critics have described his poetry as mature, elegant, fine, and lavish, and laud Malouf for his sensitivity and emotion. Adcock, concluding that "Malouf's powerful imagination allows a certain amount of surrealism," added that the poet "can be playful … but he is a serious poet concerned with serious things."

Malouf's first novel, Johnno, was published in 1975. Reviewing the work for Times Literary Supplement, Frank Pike commended the author for his resonant depiction of place and atmosphere, writing that Malouf creates "an unaffected and densely detailed evocation of a particular way of life at a particular time; urban, unspectacular." According to Pike, the novel commences "with a convincing account, finely written without fine writing, of childhood and early adolescence" in suburban Brisbane during World War II. The story follows the rocky friendship of the honorable but impressionable narrator, Dante, and Johnno, an intriguing, disturbed, fatherless youth. Dante is attracted to Johnno's fondness for carousing and heavy drinking and tries unsuccessfully to mimic his behavior. After Johnno departs for the Congo the youths meet again in Paris, but by now the narrator is warier of his old hero's unstable behavior. Afterward in Australia, Dante receives news of Johnno's death by drowning, an event that confirms Dante's early suspicions that Johnno was suicidal. Dante then receives an angst-ridden note from Johnno written prior to his death, in which he cited Dante's emotional indifference and restraint as reasons for his suicide.

In 1979 Malouf was awarded the New South Wales Premier's prize for fiction for his second novel, An Imaginary Life, a fictionalized account of the ancient Roman poet Ovid's mature life. From the sketchy information available on the Roman's later years, Malouf creates a life for the poet as he imagines it to have transpired following Ovid's exile from Rome in 8 A.D. The circumstances that led to Ovid's banishment are unclear; many historians hold that the poet was banished as punishment for ridiculing Emperor Augustus's wife Livia in his just-completed epic poem Metamorphoses, others believe he was exiled after arranging a lovers' tryst for Augustus's granddaughter Julia, and still others suspect it was Ovid's authorship of the intemperate "Art of Love" at a time when Augustus was calling for virtue in Roman society. Nonetheless, Malouf fills in the blanks to create what Katha Pollitt, writing for New York Times Book Review, deemed "an extraordinary novel" and "a work of unusual intelligence and imagination, at once sensuous and quirky, full of surprising images and intriguing insights."

In An Imaginary Life Malouf depicts an aging Ovid who, while once at the heart of pleasure-seeking Roman society, is now forced to the desolate reaches of the known world. He settles at Tomis, a grim village of one hundred huts located in what is now Romania on the Black Sea. There the barren land supports vegetation the poet cannot even identify. Malouf makes such a setting seemingly tangible through the use of prose Pollitt described as "a spare yet evocative English that captures both the bleak monochromes of Tomis and the sunny humanized landscape of Ovid's remembered Italy, without ever losing the distinctive voice, now caustic, now dreamlike, in which Ovid tells his own story." Kate Eldred, writing for New Republic, asserted that "Malouf shows us the mind of a great wordsmith struck dumb in his surroundings trying to adjust to a new life."

Carole Horn, reviewing An Imaginary Life for Washington Post, pointed out that "the story works on emotional and philosophical planes. Malouf maintains a fine consistency of tone, and his language is hauntingly lovely." Pollitt agreed, calling the novel "one of those rare books you end up underlining and copying out into notebooks and reading out loud to your friends." Eldred, impressed with Malouf's manipulation of time, remarked that the author "interplays the historical present, [which is] clumsy in English, with a narrative present and an anecdotal past tense, interweaving them so gracefully that the techniques aren't obvious, only the aftertaste of grandeur in certain passages, of a facile rhythm in others."

Harland's Half Acre also garnered critical praise. It opens with protagonist Frank Harland, who lives with his brothers and bemused father at Killarney, on the vestiges of what was once an expansive farm in the Australian countryside. Jim Crace, in a review for Times Literary Supplement, commended Malouf for his polished descriptions: the "opening chapters are … stunningly artful evocations of Queensland and Queen-slanders. The Harland acres ('lush country but of the green, subtropical kind, with sawmills in untidy paddocks') are squandered with 'extravagant folly' through drink, gambling, debt and neglect." Hearing fantastic tales of the glory of Killarney spun by his father, Frank dreams of restoring the farm to its original grandeur as a gift to his family. Jonathan Yardley, writing in Washington Post Book World, called Harland's Half Acre "a rewarding book … long on intelligence and feeling" and commended the author for writing "a meditation on the subtle, mysterious relationship between life and art…. He has written it with great sensitivity."

Malouf's 1982 novella Fly away Peter, for which he won both the Book of the Year Award and a fiction award from the Australian literary journal Age, also takes place in Australia. After spending twelve years in England, protagonist Ashley Crowther returns to a thousand-acre plantation he inherited in his native Queensland, unsure of what to do with it or his future. Already inhabiting this land is Jim Saddler, a young man content with a simple existence among nature who spends his time observing the numerous species of birds that migrate to the local swamps. Ashley decides to make the estate a wildlife reserve and hires Jim to manage it. They befriend a nature photographer, Imogen Harcourt, and the three settle into a serene life until World War I disrupts the calm. Jim and Ashley enlist, and at the front they encounter the horrors of war.

Reviewing Fly away Peter, Alan Brownjohn commented in Times Literary Supplement that "The scenes in the trenches are much the finest…: men passing down the slope from fields where peasants continue to till the ground and birds continue to sing, to enter that labyrinth of mud, rats and twitching bodies from which they will never return, or never return the same." Ashley, far removed from his independent lifestyle, becomes disillusioned and concludes that men are as cogs in machines: indistinct and replaceable. Imogen, still in Australia, thinks the fighting is absurd and senseless and concludes that a purpose is not necessary in life. David Guy in Washington Post Book World wrote that Imogen "understands that the life of men should be as Jim's once was, like the life that the birds lead. 'A life wasn't for anything. It simply was.'" For his part, Jim reacts to the war by cultivating a tranquil plot of land in an attempt to reclaim the innocence he left behind in Australia.

Malouf made Italy the setting for his next novella Child's Play, a first-person narrative told by a young terrorist preparing to assassinate an internationally acclaimed author. Times Literary Supplement reviewer Peter Kemp described the work as "surreally hard-edged," adding that "the world Child's Play projects is one where details have a hallucinatory vividness and patterns stand out with stark clarity: only significance remains creepily opaque." Guy praised Malouf's depiction of the brilliant, influential writer as "masterful" and added that the novelist again employs the concept of a simultaneous past, present, and future. Guy explained that in his preparation the terrorist envisions the near and distant future and his own place in history: "Already he sees the photographs of the piazza where the assassination will take place as those of a historic site; he imagines it in newsprint and news photograph, media which distort and deaden an event but also in some ways create it; he sees himself as the hand of fate toward which a life's work has been leading, as a figure in the writer's biography." Child's Play prompted the critic to conclude: "Malouf is something of a primitive narrator, rough around the edges, but he is also a deeply serious writer, not to be taken up lightly … [and] a genuine artist."

"Eustace" and "The Prowler," the two short stories bound with Child's Play, take place in Australia. They, like Child's Play and the novel Johnno, focus on society's fascination with elusive, sordid characters and demonstrate the author's preoccupation with the interaction of opposites. "Conformity, community, security are repeatedly set against anarchy, loneliness, danger," Peter Kemp observed in Times Literary Supplement. "Obsessively, [Malouf's] work juxtaposes order and disturbance, light and dark. Those positives and nega-tives can unexpectedly change places. And always in Malouf's stories the powerful attraction between seemingly opposed poles is used to generate some shock effects." Also focusing on disparities is Malouf's 1985 collection of thirteen short stories, titled Antipodes. These tales follow Australian immigrants and the problems they encounter in their attempts to assimilate into their adopted culture, while also examining the tribulations of Australians who travel to Europe as well. Other short fiction by Malouf has been collected in the volumes Untold Tales and Dream Stuff. The nine stories in Dream Stuff were described by Library Journal contributor Rebecca Miller as "beautiful and often brutal" tales that focus on "a precarious world" wherein "the imagination, through dreams, is the only thing that can face down the losses of life."

Malouf's 1990 novel The Great World is an epic spanning some seventy years. The novel examines the intertwined lives of two Australians, Vic Curran and Digger Keen, in a structure "juxtaposing scenes of past and future as a kind of continuous present," noted Ray Will-banks in World Literature Today. The two men are first drawn together in 1942 as prisoners of the Japanese during World War II. They survive three and a half years of brutal captivity together in Malaya and Thailand, where they are assigned to a work gang laboring in construction of the infamous Bangkok-Rangoon Railway and are encamped in an abandoned amusement park, "The Great World." New York Review of Books critic Ian Buruma described The Great World as a "superb" work containing "one of the most horrifying and vivid descriptions of the death railroad camps I have read. The rotting wounds, the maddening fevers, the casual sadism of the Japanese and Korean guards, the terror of cholera, of giving in to fate, of becoming what in Auschwitz camp jargon was called a Musulman, a doomed man already in the grip of death." Elizabeth Ward, writing in Washington Post Book World, noted that their experience results in "a profound alteration in these men's sense of reality," and "both carry the horror of their memories—dormant but never dead, like malaria—permanently." Even more, perhaps, than the physical abuse and deprivation is their loss of identity, Malouf told Observer reviewer Ed Thomason: "Everything was taken away from those POWs—their white skin, their privileges, their manhood in some kind of way. They had to find out what it was they had to hang on to, in what way you could lose things without losing them. Really, that's what the book is about—loss, in every possible meaning of the word."

Remembering Babylon, set in the 1840s, "examines the fragility of identity from within a band of 19th-century British colonials, who have scratched out a home in the Australian bush," according to Suzanne Berne in New York Times Book Review. The group is transformed with the arrival of Gemmy Fairley, a British-born young man who survived being thrown overboard from a British ship at age thirteen, washed up on a Queensland shore, and lived a wandering existence with the Aborigines for sixteen years before stumbling into the colony. "There's little plot," Catherine Foster observed in Christian Science Monitor. "Malouf roams from mind to mind of the various town residents as they react to Gemmy or try to make sense of him. Malouf generously lets us see as much of the other residents as of this gibberish-spouting character whose other, British, self slowly reemerges." Gemmy develops into a richly "multifaceted" character, "at turns human, at turns brutal," noted Berne. Within the story of Remembering Babylon the author "adroitly limns each of these shifting projections, sympathetically portraying the desperation of human exile with its terrors, its possibilities, its unlikely opportunities for grace." Gemmy, "a white man with Aboriginal ways, represents a primitive immigrant's worst confusion: the man in the right skin but the wrong tribe," Time contributor R.Z. Sheppard assessed. "He is a reminder of instincts caged but not tamed by civilization. That such a creature has much to teach can be even more upsetting."

Malouf continued to explore the contrasts between Australia and Europe in the morality tale The Conversations at Curlow Creek, published in 1997. This novel tells the story of two Irishmen—one a police officer, the other a criminal—during a long night of conversation set in the gloomy Australian outback during the hours before the criminal's execution. New York Times Book Review contributor Richard Bernstein found The Conversations at Curlow Creek impressive, but expressed reservations about the extent of the novel's philosophical commentary by calling the work marred by "overstuffed feeling." Brad Hooper, reviewing the novel for Booklist, praised it as "intellectually rigorous," while a Kirkus reviewer assessed it as "an audacious and deeply moving meditation … on freedom and identity." In World Literature Today Robert Ross wrote that in The Conversations at Curlow Creek Malouf "finds a rich source of metaphor in the Australian emptiness" and explores "the dichotomy that has long dominated Australian thinking and has underscored the search for national identity."



Hansson, Karin, Sheer Edge: Aspects of Identity in David Malouf's Writing, Lund University Press (Lund, Sweden), 1991.

Indyk, Ivor, David Malouf, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1993.

Neilsen, Philip, Imagined Lives: A Study of David Malouf, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1990.

Nettelbeck, Amanda, Provisional Maps: Critical Essays on David Malouf, Center for Studies in Australian Literature (Nedlands), 1994.

Nettelbeck, Amanda, Reading David Malouf, Sydney University Press (Sydney, Australia), 1995.


Antipodes, December, 2000, p. 145.

Australian Literary Studies, May, 1999, Andrew Taylor, "Origin, Identity, and the Body in David Malouf's Fiction" p. 3.

Booklist, December 1, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of The Conversations at Curlow Creek, p. 641; May 15, 2000, Nancy Pearl, review of Dream Stuff, p. 1728.

Boston Globe, April 4, 1991, p. 68; October 17, 1993, p. A15.

Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1993, sec. 14, p. 6.

Christian Science Monitor, October 21, 1993, Catherine Foster, review of Remembering Babylon, p. 15.

Economist (U.S.), November 16, 1996, review of The Conversations at Curlow Creek, p. S18; May 13, 2000, p. 14.

Guardian, August 8, 1993, p. 29.

Kenyon Review, summer-fall, 2002, interview with Malouf, p. 164.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1996.

Law Society Journal, February, 2002, David Gava, review of Dream Stuff, p. 92.

Library Journal, June 15, 2000, Rebecca Miller, review of Dream Stuff, p. 120.

Listener, January 9, 1986, p. 29; February 13, 1986, p. 28; April 5, 1990, p. 32.

London Review of Books, May 8, 1986, p. 19; April 19, 1990, p. 20; June 10, 1993, pp. 28-29.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1991, p. E3; September 23, 1994, p. A13.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 31, 1993, p. 3.

New Republic, May 13, 1978, Kate Eldred, review of An Imaginary Life.

New Statesman, May 7, 1993, p. 40.

New Yorker, August 12, 1991, p. 79; November 1, 1993, p. 131.

New York Review of Books, July 19, 1990, pp. 43-5; December 2, 1993, pp. 13-15; April 10, 1997, Gabriele Annan, review of The Conversations at Curlow Creek, p. 19; December 21, 2000, Clive James, review of Dream Stuff, p. 90.

New York Times, July 14, 1978; October 19, 1993, p. C19.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1978; February 10, 1985, p. 40; June 22, 1986, p. 34; July 19, 1990, pp. 43-45; March 31, 1991, p. 20; October 17, 1993, pp. 7, 52; December 5, 1993, p. 64; January 19, 1997, p. 10; January 22, 1997.

Observer (London, England), February 10, 1985, p. 26; February 2, 1986, p. 28; April 8, 1990, p. 58; May 5, 1991, p. 61; May 30, 1993, p. 63.

PMLA, October, 2002, p. 1158.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, review of Dream Stuff, p. 47.

Spectator, April 8, 2000, Rory O'Keeffe, review of Dream Stuff, p. 42.

Time, October 25, 1993, pp. 82, 84; January 3, 1994, p. 79.

Times (London), June 17, 1982; January 31, 1985.

Times Literary Supplement, April 9, 1976; September 22, 1978; January 29, 1982; May 21, 1982; October 15, 1982; June 15, 1984; February 8, 1985, p. 140; April 6, 1990, p. 375; May 7, 1993, p. 20.

Tribune Books, November 28, 1993, p. 6.

USA Today, November 19, 1993, p. D14.

Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1991, p. A10; October 25, 1993, p. A18.

Washington Post, May 12, 1978, Carol Horn, review of An Imaginary Life; May 2, 1982; September 26, 1984; September 23, 1993, p. D3.

Washington Post Book World, March 24, 1991, pp. 8-9; September 5, 1993, p. 9; October 31, 1993, p. 12.

World Literature Today, summer, 1991, Ray Willbanks, review of The Great World, p. 543; autumn, 2000, David Draper Clark, "David Malouf Chronology," p. 706; winter, 1998, Robert Ross, review of The Conversations at Curlow Creek, p. 201.

About this article

Malouf, David 1934–

Updated About content Print Article