JOHNNO by David Malouf


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An elegiac, autobiographical first novel only now released after Malouf's second, An Imaginary Life, attracted a good deal of critical attention. Edward Johnson--Johnno--is everything the narrator isn't. Among the boys of Brisbane, Australia, growing up during the end of the Second World War, Johnno was the one ""who could be depended on to reject everything that was decent, respectable, sensible even, and take off on his own extravagant parabola."" Schoolboy daringness gives way to adolescent semi-sophistication; he becomes a mini-rouÉ, a drunk, an anarchist-thief, then seems inexplicably to settle down to the study of geology. In a few years time, though, he's off to the mines of the Congo, then to Europe, where the narrator, himself expatriated in London, meets up with him again. Johnno's death by drowning back in Australia--accidental or suicidal?--closes off the parabola. Malouf's contrasting of provincial Australian life with Johnno's recklessness comes off well enough; descriptions reveal a poet's prose; Johnno balances delicately upon his inherent mystery. But this really isn't much more than a sensitive, calm, and quiet ""most unforgettable character I ever met.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1978
Publisher: Braziller