It is about to begin. All my life till now has been wasted. I had to enter the silence to find a password that would release me from my own life.
And yet the words were already written. I wrote them years ago, and only now discover what they meant, what message they had for me: "You will be separated from yourself and yet be alive."
Now I too must be transformed.
-- David Malouf, 'An Imaginary Life'
David Malouf is an Australian author with a sheer, unrelenting talent.
David Malouf was born on March 20, 1934, in Brisbane, Australia. His father's family were Lebanese Christians and his mother's family were British Jews; both families moved to Australia shortly before World War I. His family's cultural heritage is a strong influence in his life, and many of his works discuss immigration, multiculturalism and emancipation. A central tenet of his later works is a sense of crossed cultures, like crossed telephone lines: living in one place, and inheriting the cultures of another.
He studied at Brisbane Grammar School and The University of Queensland. At the completion of his degree, he returned to the University to teach at their English department for two years. In 1959, at the age of 24, he left Australia to travel across Europe, which Malouf saw as a return to his cultural home. He taught occasionally in London and Birkenhead, and at one point he was a schoolmaster of St. Anselm's College in Cheshire, England. In 1968 he returned to Australia to teach English Literature at the University of Sydney.
It wasn't until 1977 that Malouf committed himself to writing full-time. He moved to Campagnatico (in Tuscany, Italy) to concentrate on writing. By 1985, he felt compelled to move back to Australia. Presently, he travels between Australia and Campagnatico and spends most of his time writing literature and winning literary awards. Malouf often lectures on Australian and worldwide immigration culture.
Malouf has written a copious amount of poetry, as well as an autobiography, plays, operas and lectures. His most critically acclaimed works are fictional literature. His first major award was the NSW Premier's Literary Award for 'An Imaginary Life' in 1979. Malouf won the Miles Franklin Award in 1990 for 'The Great World'; 'Remembering Babylon' was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994 and later won the inaugural IMPAC literature prize in 1996: fiscally, the world's largest literary award. He was also invited to give the Boyer Lectures in 1998: these annual lectures focus on "major social, scientific or cultural issues".
Malouf's style is relentlessly emotive. He has a natural gift for breathlessly beautiful fiction. Malouf describes his works as "an attempt to stop time and dwell on a moment", and his works are filled with startling imagery. His efforts to capture a snapshot of a time and a place do not go unrewarded.
In my opinion, Malouf's best work is 'An Imaginary Life', a fictional tale based on the exile of the Roman poet Ovid. Little is known of Ovid's life, so Malouf conjures a vision of his life in exile. The first time I read Malouf's work was during an English Literature exam, when a passage from 'An Imaginary Life' was given to us to discuss imagery. I was so enamoured with the passage, so lost in its beauty, that I wrote the worst essay of my life.
Suddenly my head is full of flowers of all kinds. They sprout out of the earth in deep fields and roll away in my skull. I have only to name the flowers, without even knowing what they look like, the colour, the shape, the number of petals, and they burst into bud, they click open, they spread their fragrance in my mind, opening out of the secret syllables as I place them like seeds upon my tongue and give them breath. I am Flora. I am Persephone. I have the trick of it now. All it needs is belief.
And this, as I might have guessed, is how it is done. We give the gods a name and they quicken in us, they rise in their glory and power and majesty out of minds, they move forth to act in the world beyond, changing us and it. So it is that the beings we are in the process of becoming will be drawn out of us. We have only to find the name and let its illumination fill us. Beginning, as always, with what is simple.
-- David Malouf, 'An Imaginary Life'
Once I read 'An Imaginary Life', I finally understood why David Malouf constantly wins literary awards.
- Johnno (1975)
- An Imaginary Life (1978) - NSW Premier's Literary Award, 1979
- Fly Away Peter (aka The Bread of Time to Come) (1982) - The Age Book of the Year Award, 1982
- Harland's Half Acre (1984)
- "The Only Speaker of His Tongue" (novella)
- The Great World (1990) - The Miles Franklin Award, 1991; Commonwealth Prize for Fiction, 1991
- Remembering Babylon (1993) - NSW Premier's Literary Award, 1993; shortlisted for the Booker Prize, 1994; International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 1996
- The Conversations at Curlow Creek (1996) - nominated for the Age Book of the Year Award, 1996; nominated for the Miles Franklin Award, 1997
- Antipodes (1985)
- Child's Play (1982)
- Untold Tales (1999)
- Dream Stuff (2000)
- Bicycle and Other Poems (aka The Year of the Foxes and Other Poems) (1970)
- Neighbours in a Thicket (1974)
- Poems 1975-76 (1976)
- First Things Last (1980)
- Wild Lemons (1980)
- Selected Poems (1980)
- Selected Poems (1991)
- David Malouf: Poems 1959-89 (1992)
- Blood Relations (1988)
- Voss (libretto), (1978)
- Mer de Glace (1991) (co-written with Richard Meale)
- 12 Edmondstone Street (1985)
- A Spirit of Play: Boyer Lectures (1998)