Sunday, 29 December 2019

Book review: Antipodes, David Malouf (1985)

This collection of short stories feels dated. Some of the issues it deals with – such as Australia’s recent establishment and its belonging to the “New World” – are not much talked about now, in the 21st century. We are much more confident about who we are than Malouf and those of his generation were, once. We don’t need bolstering in our self-esteem. We know what we can do and how much our polity is worth. The cultural cringe is gone.

Another problem you have with these stories is the determination of the author to create high culture. There is a languor about the prose, and which is betrayed by the long, multi-clause sentences that carry the plots forward and that render the characters. You get impatient with each list of things that the author has decided is necessary to create the illusion of life on the printed page. I wasn’t overly impressed by this kind of dynamic and wished that things would move a bit faster. I am used, now, to the quicker pace of prose that is published in both the mainstream and for literary fiction.

The way the theme of teenage sexuality is explored, furthermore, in the first story in this collection, which is titled ‘Southern Skies’, would be impossible to publish now, in the years following the hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse that we have been witness to over the past 15 years or so. In fact, such a story could not even be written now by an author with any self-respect.

The cover design is curious and I wonder if the two stars to the left of the Southern Cross represent the US and Europe. Such a reading would make sense in the light of the book’s contents. This copy has been in my library for a long time and I hadn’t read it before now, although I skipped the last few stories. 

If you give this book a chance it is worth it to persist just so that you can see how much fiction in Australia has changed in a generation. In his heyday Malouf was considered very classy but I don’t think many people read him now.

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