Sunday 10 May 2015

The Great World by David Malouf

Rereading a book after 18 yrs is a very interesting experience. It's almost like reading it again for the first time.

This has certainly been the case for me and The Great World.

Thanks to the fact that I write my name, date and place of purchase on the inside cover of all my books I know roughly when I read it. The date inside my copy of The Great World is 22nd Dec 1997, Randwick.

That was back in my teaching days. My sister lived in Coogee for a few years. Every school holidays during those years I would plan a brief visit. I'd spend some time lazing on the beach, catch a movie or two, eat out somewhere exotic and enjoy some shopping. Over summer, in particular, I made sure I had enough books on hand for the 5 week break ahead of me.

I read The Great World for the first time in the summer of 1998. I was still in my twenties (just) and the main thing I remember 18 yrs later is that this book had a profound impact on me. It also led to a long-standing literary love affair with David Malouf.

Before I started it again recently I tried to recall what was it that I remembered so clearly and profoundly. I quickly realised that I had no idea about the plot or characters. I had a vague idea that it was about one of the wars and friendship. The impact lay in the writing.

I was impressed (and at times overwhelmed) by the intelligence of Malouf's writing. His ability to describe an everyday emotion or thought so that you could grasp it yourself blew me away. There was nuance and complexity and humanity. And at times I struggled to keep up.

I was therefore excited and a little daunted to be starting this book again.

The opening line hooked me though. I read it a couple of times and thought, this is what makes a great book - a heart-stopping, breath-catching, let-me-read-that-again beginning.
People are not always kind, but the kind thing to say about Jenny was that she was simple.
Straight away I was reminded of why I loved Malouf's writing.
I couldn't remember who Jenny was, but suddenly I remembered that this was a book about kindness, suffering and what makes us, unites us and divides us as human beings.
This was a big picture story told through the lens of a few specific characters that I was about to get to know again.

The Great World is a war story - WWII and Changi. It is about friendships - the kind that last for ever, the kind that surprise, the kind that develop thanks to circumstances. It is about suffering - inflicted by others and that inflicted on ourselves. And it is about kindness in all it's guises.

The connections, or threads, that link us to each other, to our memories, to our shared histories and even to our future selves are all explored.

My reread was much easier than I remember the first, but my literary love for Malouf remains unchanged. I only wish I had more time to reread his entire backlist a

The Great World won the Miles Franklin Award in 1991
I read this book as part of my Classics Club challenge and ccspin #9.


  1. Anonymous15/5/15

    I haven't heard of this one before. I will look for it.

  2. I loved his Ransom, but haven't read any others, as I think I needed some guidance. So now I know which one would definitely appeal to me - thank you!

    1. Ransom was probably a pretty hard place to start Vicki. He's clever and fascinating and perceptive. And there is generosity & tenderness in his writing, but not always an easy warmth to smooth the way.

      But I always feel it's worth the effort.


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