Monday, 24 June 2013

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf


"It was the mixture of monstrous strangeness and unwelcome likeness that made Gemmy Fairley so disturbing to them, since at any moment he could show either one face or the other; as if he were always standing there at one of those meetings, but in his case willingly, and the encounter was an embrace."

This novel is marvellously evocative of another time and I was quite surprised to see it was published only in 1993. The winner of a raft of awards, it is 200 pages of beautifully crafted prose. Raising questions of what it means to be human, part of a particular society, growing up and growing apart in a densely, almost poetic format.
The story of Gemmy, a white English boy raised by aborigines, who returns to white society acts as both a catalyst and conundrum. The settlers struggle to accept him as one of their own, particularly as the violent settlement of the land continues further afield.
The manner in which the tale is told ebbs and flows across a number of narrative perspectives, yet still engages with the reader. Ultimately, it seems to me this book is about the terror of the other and the realisation that perceived differences may not be as vast as first supposed.

 4 out of 5 somewhere in the mid 19th Century.

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