The Great World
"Every city, town and village has its memorial to war. Nowhere are these monuments more eloquent than in Australia, generations of whose young men have enlisted to fight other people's battles - from Gallipoli and the Somme to Malaya and Vietnam. In The Great World, his finest novel yet, David Malouf gives a voice to that experience.
"For the two very different men at the centre of this book, war was supposed to be a soldierly theatre, a testing-ground of virtues too obvious to name. Instead, it was to prove an ordeal of an entirely different kind, laying bare the painful reality which lies behind a nation's myth of itself.
"But The Great World is more than a novel of war. Ranging over seventy years of Australian life, from Sydney's teeming King's Cross to the tranquil backwaters of the Hawkesbury River, it is remarkable novel of self-knowledge and lost innocence, of survival and witness. It is destined to become a classic."
"A thrilling and a moving novel - epic in its grasp of a 'great world' of military force and economic ambition, lyrical in its sympathy with the small private worlds of dream and desire inside that grand scheme. Malouf understands the complexity of simple people and the 'little sacraments of daily existence' better than anyone since Patrick White in The Tree of Man - and there's no higher praise than that." - Peter Conrad
People are not always kind, but the kind thing to say of Jenny was that she was simple.
Children whose mothers were cooking and found they were short of something, breadcrumbs or a kilo of flour, would set up a wail at the thought of having to go down to Keen's and fetch it. 'Aw no, mum! Why me? It's Brett's turn. Make Brett do it!'
It wasn't the walk they objected to, though it was far enough, down the hill and off the main road to the river, or even the interruption to their favourite programme on TV. It was the odd feeling you got when you stood on the doorstep with the bead curtain still clattering behind you and saw the old woman half-sprawled on the counter there, breathing like a big fish that had just been hauled out of the river and stranded. Sometimes she was asleep. You would have to poke a finger into the wool of her cardigan and she would start up and look around in a wild sort of way, then, when she saw that she knew you, gave a wet smile.
But simple was the wrong word for her, or so smaller kids thought, because the real thing about Jenny, as she flopped about with her thick arms and shuffly slippers, was that she was likely to say things and do things too, that you weren't expecting and could make neither head nor tail of.
From the Chatto & Windus hardback edition, 1990.
This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1991, the 1991 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Prix Fémina Etranger in 1991.
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Last modified: January 26, 2006.