Crossing Borders of the Self in the Fiction of David Malouf

Mark Byron


The relation of self and other is at the thematic heart of two of David Malouf's novels: An Imaginary Life and Remembering Babylon. Characters demarcate the terms of this relation through their experiences: they endure alienation, suffer exile, or find themselves estranged from a linguistic community; they discover a sense of centredness, return to a home, or are absorbed into a common speech and the life of the community. Both of these texts have attracted specific critical comment, not all of it positive, regarding the ways they manifest and explore the self-other relation. Some reviewers and critics have questioned whether Malouf might not have passed up opportunities to represent viewpoints other than the consciousness of the narrator and the central characters, or to explore, in depth, authentic alternatives to hegemonic cultural paradigms. Can a reader of An Imaginary Life step out from Ovid's consciousness, even momentarily, to take issue with his world of exile and its inhabitants? Can a reader of Remembering Babylon gain an insight into the lives of indigenous characters only glimpsed at the edges of the narrative? While there are sympathetic characters in both novels who experience and embody cultural exteriority, are readers able to gain significant insight into their experiences and worldviews?

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