Review: An Open Book by David Malouf, UQP

Erich Mayer

Malouf covers a wide canvas and casts a light on the human condition with insight and wisdom and affection.
Review: An Open Book by David Malouf, UQP

David Malouf's An Open Book.

In an interview in 2010, David Malouf said, ‘In older writers there's sometimes a fading of the intensity of the imagination, and of the interest in the tiny details of life and behaviour’. Quite correctly, however, he did not apply this insight to himself. Eight years later, at the age of 84, there is no hint of fading in any of Malouf’s poems in An Open Book. His acuity of observation and his talent for expressing meaning and feeling is evident in every line.

In the collection’s eponymous poem, Malouf recollects his childhood. While his mother tells him she can read him like a book, he knows how to keep a secret. He learns about books and words and their more subtle implications. He understands how to be silent and patient. He loves and appreciates the varied beautiful autumn colours visible through the bay window. He recalls a growing awareness of the world around him when there is a future yet to unfold. All this and more in six short three-line stanzas. In this poem, Malouf conveys so much in a very few well chosen words, as indeed he does in all his work.

The famous ‘Sonnet pour Hélène’ was written in French around 1587 by Pierre de Ronsard and defies adequate translation, although attempts at translation into English do exist. Malouf’s poem ‘La Belle Hélène’ pays tribute to the original, borrowing the character of the neglected Hélène to delve into the theme of regret, looking back on the lost or rejected opportunities of one’s youth. ‘Pluck it now, and boldly. Beware tomorrow’, is Malouf’s advice.

The five works under the heading ‘Garden Poems’ demonstrate Malouf’s eye for detail and his love of colour. In a quite different mood, ‘Eavesdropping’ is about what one might think as the house is emptied after all the guests have departed.

Overall, Malouf covers a wide canvas and casts a light on the human condition with insight and wisdom and affection. He observes, he recounts, he interprets, he advises – but he does not criticise. His reputation as one of Australia’s greatest poets remains intact.

Good poetry is like a piece of music that lends itself to repeated listening; greater familiarity with a work enhances the pleasure. Malouf’s publisher has recognised this and has provided the reader with a bound bookmark to make it easier to revisit a particular poem. They have also given An Open Book a sturdy hard cover so it will withstand repeated contact, as it is sure to undergo in the hands of most readers.

Poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea and there is no reason why it should be. But for those that love the genre, An Open Book is a rare and welcome feast.

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
An Open Book
Author: David Malouf 
AUD $ 29.95
Category: Poetry
Release Date: 1/10/2018
Pages: 104
ISBN: 978 0 7022 6030 8

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog humblecomment.info