Chatto & Windus, 215 pp., $12.95
The prolific David Malouf, another of our poets turned novelist, just had two short prose works published within a few months of one another. Although Child’s Play (which also includes two short stories) is set in Italy, where Malouf now resides, and Fly Away Peter in Brisbane where he grew up, the two books are thematically related, not only to each other but to the author’s earlier work.
In his previous novel An Imaginary Life (1978), Malouf had posed the situation of the poet Ovid, banished for life from the Rome he loved but coming to terms with the wilderness around him and discovering that true freedom is internal, lying within the imagination. The protagonist of Child’s Play lives on the other side of Ovid; he has in a sense dispensed with the imagination, as being a source of potential vulnerability:
‘To open to others all that lies beyond the hard surface, the doubts, fears, hesitations, anxieties of the lonely individual, all the soft dark life within ... would be to introduce an element that might entirely destroy us,’ he says of himself and the other members of the cabal.