Wednesday, 24 August 2011


After finishing The Sun Also Rises, I read an Australian book which had been recommended to me by a friend. Johnno is a partly autobiographical novella beautifully written by David Malouf. To be honest, I'm not sure I've read anywhere that its autobiographical, but it has a strong feeling of truth, and a description of Brisbane that came across as very personal. Having said that, although the depiction was very personal, I should stress that the view of Brisbane is quite different from mine. Partly this is because the book is set 30 or 40 years ago (Brisbane has changed fairly dramatically in that time), and partly its because I came to Brisbane for university, rather than growing up here. Its perhaps because of this latter distinction that Malouf, or at least his narrator, seems to have a very conflicted view of the city, sometimes, implicitly, seeming very fond of it, but at other times quite explicitly expressing his disdain of the town and his longing to get out to see the real world. I certainly held that view of the town of my adolescence, Mareeba, for a long time, although in recent years I've softened my view.

So I've spent a long time talking about the way that Brisbane is presented in the book. That isn't by accident - its certainly the strongest opinions I have about it - but there is a plot nonetheless. The story is told by a sometimes passive narrator as he reminisces about his relationship with Johnno, an extroverted character from his school days whom he follows through adolescence and youth, including meetings during travels to Europe. Many of the traits of the characters and their friendship are closely tied to the place and time in which they live - particularly their diversions in Brisbane, and some of the revolutionary things in Europe in the 60s. Others remind me of some of my experiences, meeting college friends in Europe and taking in the different perspectives we have on the world, reflecting on the pilgrimage so many Australians make to live in Europe (usually the UK, much to my disdain), and the paths that we take through our teens and twenties.

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