David Malouf is an Australian author, with Lebanese and British parents, and winner of the Neustadt prize for Literature in 2000. He was first of all a poet, and subsequently wrote novellas and novels. I read a collection of short stories as part of the challenge to read three Neustadt authors. [And of course, I can also count this towards the short story reading challenge]
There are seven stories in this collection and is difficult to chose a favourite one. I loved the first in the collection ‘The Valley of the Lagoons’ which is about a rite of passage from teenager to adult. The narrator, Angus, is a 16-year old and for the first time permission his father allows him to go with his friend Braden to the Lagoons. Braden will soon go to university and he has made this annual trip with his own father and brothers for a number of years. The McGeowns are tough but have real integrity. Braden is different from his brothers; he is academic. His older brother Glen accepts this ‘difference’ but Stuart is puzzled by it, is dismayed.
Going to the Valley of the Lagoons is a hunting trip, where members of a party need to be able to completely rely on each other, almost know each other’s thoughts and reactions in order to finish the kill. The story is tightly written, the difference in the characters palpable in their reactions to each other. Throughout this episode Angus discovers himself and realises and learns to accept how he is different from Braden and also from his brothers. He also begins to understand the relationship between Stuart and his own sister.
All I want to say here is that any aspiring writer should read this story, the way it builds up, the character development and the emerging understanding of Angus of what he will be and how he will be a different person from Braden.
The second story has the title of the book ‘Every Move You Make’. Although excellent and again spellbinding I was not so taken by the subject as that of the third story ‘War Baby’. I think it has to do perhaps with the way Malouf is able to draw the development of male teenagers/young persons through the events that lead to their adulthood, in both the first and this third story, which is so beautifully done. The main character in the third story is a female.
The mastery of language and the writing skills are superb throughout all the stories in this book. Well, there was a reason of course for being awarded the Neustadt Literature Prize! I don’t want to give away too much as I think you need to read them, each story is a discovery. There are no ‘solutions’, no big gasps at the end, but there is something in each and every one that you take away and think about and that make you feel as if you’ve learned something, you’re a bit wiser than you were before reading these stories.
‘Towards Midnight’ is the story of a woman watching a mysterious midnight swimmer using the swimming pool, unaware that she is up there on the terrace overseeing the pool watching him, and unaware that she is there in a chosen exile from her family and friends, receiving treatment for cancer in the local hospital.
And so there are the other stories, Mrs Porter and The Road, Elsewhere, and the others… enjoy!