JOHNNO by David Malouf

Johnno is Maloufs first novel - published in 1975. It is set mostly in Brisbane in the 40s and 50s. This is a Brisbane of colonial, weatherboard, verandah homes and pubs - even in the City Centre. After studying at University the young narrator travels and works in Britain for several years - then comes home to find a Brisbane already changing in say, the late 50s. The story is about young people, their relationships and change - it has many sub themes - friendship of young males, the mythology and pull of place and its effect on us, the difficulty of understanding others . The eponomous Johnno is a character who fascinates the narrator - a school companion of his at Grammar school in Brisbane. The novel follows them for a couple decades as their lives touch from time to time in Australia and Europe and then back to Brisbane. Exploration of the narrator's views and adventures with Johnno and often, despite Johnno, form the intellectual basis of the plot . The sense of place and environment are palpable. I could feel the heat of the day at times with powerful descriptions such as coming out into the glaring Brisbane sun from a cool , dark interior. There is a wonderful description of the old State Library and its clientele ,in chapter 5, which must be essential reading for all Queensland librarians - and the rest of us can identify and enjoy it too. "The Library had its own people. You never saw (them) anywhere else in the City...." will ring a clear bell with most of us. By the way - Malouf's descriptions and settings are lovingly detailed with a poets eye.

I found it a very satisfying and challenging read. It provides strong incites to relationships and personal development - however I have some questions . The big one for me is - is Johnno believable ? And does the narrator pull off the relationship fixation ? - I just about think he does but I would love to hear others views.

David Malouf , b 1934, has a most impressive body of work which now includes several novels , short stories along with volumes of poetry, memoirs and libretti. He has won international literary prizes and several Australian prizes . There are many literary criticisms and biographical notes on him in databases and web sites. Johnno is in print - Penguin at $22.95 (approx 170 pp) and is readily available in most Australian libraries. As a major Australian writer who has never ceased to explore the options of style and genre in developing his communication - it is important and enjoyable to look at where he started.I recommend it the experience.