September 04, 2015

Book Review—The Writing Life by David Malouf

Malouf’s writing career spans many decades and numerous highly praised works. In this volume he shares his thoughts on other writers and, perhaps more interestingly, the role of reading in life and the writer in society.

Covering authors as diverse as Mann, Hugo, Proust, Kafka, Shakespeare and Homer, Malouf provides intriguing personal readings of their works and highlights unique perspectives. He reveals Kafka not as the surrealist, but as someone “who works so close to the facts of his own life”, and wrestles the enormity of the Iliad into a manageable, human work with relevance to 21st century life. The Shakespeare article is particularly interesting, as Malouf traces both the evolution of perception of Shakespeare in literary circles but also Shakespeare’s development in his treatment of material, shifting from performance to shared experience with the audience that makes his plays the most revered in the Western tradition.

Many of these essays are not just valuable from a critical perspective, but a living one, revealing Malouf as someone who absorbs literature in order to live a fuller life.  These life-centric readings provide the volume with its greatest interest, and several pieces in particular exemplify the link between literature and life. But in opposition it also reveals the disconnect writing imposes on writers, where their social, talking selves are in opposition to, and occasionally in conflict with, their brooding, writing selves.

A volume of unique readings and personal reflections, The Writing Life is a fascinating record of a writer and, more importantly, a reader.

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