'Dante and Johnno are unlikely childhood friends, growing up in the bustle of steamy, wartime Brisbane. Later, as teenagers, they learn about love and life amidst the city's pubs and public libraries, backyards and brothels, Moreton Bay figs and tennis parties. As adults, they make the great pilgrimage overseas and maintain an uneasy friendship as they seek to build their lives.
'An affectionate and bittersweet portrait, Johnno brilliantly recreates the sleazy, tropical half-city that was Brisbane and captures a generation locked in combat with the elusive Australian dream.'
Source: Publisher's blurb (Penguin).
'This discursive essay – part exegesis, part literary analysis – analyses the act of writing about Asia from Australia (and from the west). I use the circumstances of my early childhood to frame my interest in ‘Asia’, suggesting that Australia is a genuinely diverse nation that is engaged with the region but that it also retains and values a monocultural outlook. In turn, I analyse several novels by westerners about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge (including my own novel, Figurehead) to reflect on, first, cultural appropriation, and, second, the limits of empathy in fiction.'
' We're in the Arts West forum at the University of Melbourne on a freezing July evening and David Malouf is telling his audience that he has just re-read Johnno for the first time in more than 40 years: The parts of the book I like best are not about either of the central characters, but all the stuff about Brisbane. It really is a history of Brisbane [in the 1940s and 1950s] which had never been written, and it's an attempt to produce for readers all the detail of what it was like to live in that atmosphere, with that weather, and with that particular social structure. There is a huge amount of detail in the book and I treat that detail as if it were in a poem, so that there is something sensuously felt and emblematic of something larger. I think that's probably the most successful aspect of the book.' (Introduction)
'By the time poet David Malouf wrote Johnno (1976), his first work of prose fiction, he was in his late thirties and living in the Renaissance city of Florence. Both European Florence and antipodean Brisbane mirror and enfold the novel's eponymous hero, Johnno, and his narrator-creator, Dante. The Florentine poet, and by extension his medieval trappings, resonate throughout a tale about growing up in a frontier town far removed from the cosmopolitan centres of the Northern Hemisphere. This Italian connection can be explored further by considering Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (1997) alongside Johnno. The depiction of Venice in Calvino's novel can operate as a point of contrast and comparison to the river city of Brisbane, conjured by Malouf's Dante. (Publication abstract)
'The essay addresses the poetic dimension of David Malouf's novels, suggesting that a poetics of possibility can be found in all his work. The poetics of possibility is a function both of Malouf’s thematic interest in the future and of his use of poetic language to draw the reader to imagine various kinds of ways of experiencing and knowing the world. The essay draws upon the philosophy of Ernst Bloch to illuminate the utopian dimension of Malouf’s work, whether in seeing the radiance of possibility in simple objects, the silent ‘presence’ at the centre of language, or the possibility of a different kind of future that Australian society might have experienced.' (Publication abstract)