Malouf is an acclaimed Australian author. Remembering Babylon was published in 1993 but is set in colonial Australia. Being published only 18 years ago hardly makes it vintage, as the publisher claims, but that’s neither here nor there. It deals with the common topic of prejudice and for me comes somewhere between the subtle, intricate analysis of Forster’s A Passage to India, and the brash, dictation of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Consequently I’d give it half marks.
What I enjoyed about Remembering Babylon were the diverse characters, and the look into pioneering life.
What I didn’t like about this book was the seemingly irrelevant passages, the limited insight, and the unnecessary use of profanity. On the first point, there were a few short incidences that were, while beautifully written, seemingly irrelevant to the central theme. Malouf told single incidents from several perspectives, but he didn’t go deep enough into any one for my enjoyment. As for the profanity, I cannot stand this in written prose. Malouf could have just as easily conveyed the hardened, uncouth characters without it. Furthermore, he uses unpleasant imagery for things which are not unpleasant. For example, instead of saying Mr Frazer made his lips into the shape of an arsehole, he could simply has said Mr Frazer pursed his lips.
This is not a book for those who need a climatic ending, but Malouf poetically captures the nuances of Australian flora and conditions so it is more the journey than the destination.
What I especially loved about this re-release was the beautiful cover, which resembles Delftware, with it’s stark white cover and royal blue line-art. It was 80% of the reason I bought it.