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Malouf, David

life gemmy novel australian

(Australian, 1934– )

Malouf often writes on Australian subjects, although his powerful second novel, An Imaginary Life (1978), is about the poet Ovid in exile on the Black Sea. Begin with the award-winning Remembering Babylon (1993). Set in the 1850s, in a remote settlement in Queensland, the story centres on a creature ('hopping and flapping towards them out of a world over there, that was the abode of everything savage and fearsome') who turns out to be a white man, Gemmy. Gemmy was thrown overboard as a cabin boy, and has lived with Aborigines for sixteen years. The novel moves effortlessly between Gemmy's struggle to ingratiate himself and cling to his own identity, his memories of life with the Aborigines, and the nightmare cruelties of his childhood, and the rivalries between various members of the settlement, who are haunted by a sense of their own futility.

Harland's Half Acre (1984), a family saga set in rural Australia about a hundred years later, interweaves the stories of Frank Harland, a visionary painter who lives the life of a tramp, and the boy who becomes Frank's protector. The half acre of the title is the amount of canvas Frank covers with his paintings. ‘It wasn't much, no more than a glimpse. But as much as one man might catch sight of.’ This novel remains episodic, lacking the synthesis Malouf achieved in Remembering Babylon. In The Great War (1990) Malouf depicts Australian life through differing reactions to war. Malouf is also known as a poet, librettist, and critic.

Thomas Keneally, Patrick White, Elizabeth Jolley. See AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND  JR

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