Shelves: fiction , australia-new-zealand , read Johnno is Maloufs first novel and is written in the first person past tense and the narrator is only ever known by the nickname "Dante". Apparently the book is very heavily autobiographical. He finds a photograph of his friend Johnno, and the rest is for the most part reverie. The story is centred upon the friendship between Dante and a schoolmate known as "Johnno" in their discontented adolescence and early adulthood in the s and s in Brisbane and of their travels overseas. Just a dusty humid mosquito ridden small time town and that sultry lethargy sinks into your bones by the distinctive way Malouf writes.

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Maxine McKew Summer What a place! Johnno would snarl. Brisbane was nothing: a city that blew neither hot nor cold, a place where nothing happened, and where nothing ever would happen, because it had no soul.

People suffered here without significance. It was too mediocre even to be a province of hell. It would have defeated Baudelaire. A place where poetry could never occur. There is a huge amount of detail in the book and I treat that detail as if it were in a poem, so that there is something sensuously felt and emblematic of something larger. A published poet in the s, Malouf laboured for years over what would be his first novel. Johnno was finally published by University of Queensland Press in Some of it from mates such as Betty Riddell.

Whether writer, actor or politician, we seem hard-wired to remember those who slap us around. But a check of the record shows that along with the slights, Johnno had some serious fans from the start.

He compared Malouf to both Gide and Lermontov. Although a modest seller at first, word spread and readers made up their own minds. For Queenslanders there was the brilliant shock of recognition. A book that internalised the derision—the rawness of Brisbane as the place of sweaty armpits and not much else—with Malouf turning all this into something approaching poetry.

Readers elsewhere responded to the exquisite detail of domestic life and spaces, of family relations and the complexity of a remembered friendship between two very different young men.

Perhaps it was the readers who could sense what the critics missed: that the urban-based realism of Johnno was the literary answer to what Donald Horne had been writing about a decade earlier. In The Lucky Country Horne lambasted intellectuals and writers who ignored the realities of Australian life and wrote instead about a dated myth of laconic rural folk.

Johnno is the book that signposts a very different kind of Australian prose writing. When I was planning my midyear lecture on Johnno, I took a punt and wrote to Malouf asking him to join the discussion. So what you start doing as a young child is to lurk around the place, eavesdropping, looking through the cracks in doors and all the rest of it.

The person who is doing that is getting their perfect training to be a writer. There is a precise art to this. But something else as well.

One audience member asks if the process is akin to analysis. How does the writer keep a sense of judgement and not lose himself? Kipling was right when he said that a writer has to drift, listen and obey. That means allowing some other entity, or some other aspect of your consciousness to do the writing and to trust that.

So you have to trust that. Everything else is irrelevant. And if the experience is sufficiently powerful people take the book into themselves. In reimagining many of the details of the short life of his childhood friend Johnny Millner, who drowned in the Condamine at age 28, Malouf draws on the Greek-inspired Nietzschean duality as represented by Apollo and Dionysus.

The former represents prudence and order Dante and the latter Johnno pursues revelry and an all-embracing experience. The beauty and pathos of the novel are in a series of missed moments. Millner dropped the entire contents on his masters. Even now I look and still wonder about things he told me and whether they were true.


“Johnno” by David Malouf-are we who we think we are, or who is reflected in those around us?

This is the first novel of this iconic Australian poet and author, published in at the height of the Whitlam Era. Patrick White described this as the best novel written by an Australian author at that time. It is a sensitive story with great insights into relationships and the search for self identity. The Masterclass was fascinating as David Malouf attended in person! It is set in Brisbane, in the suburb where the boys live, at the school they go to, the library they inhabit and the social scene of this city when they are at university.


Remembering Johnno




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