Saturday, January 19, 2013

Birds eye view (Books - Fly Away Peter by David Malouf)

David Malouf, an Australian writer, was new to me.  His novella  Fly Away Peter (Vintage International, 1982) has an elegant, even polished voice and an pensive, elegiac tone.  It concerns two young men, Ashley Crowther, an English-educated Australian man of means who returns to live on his father estate.  He hires Jim, a man well-versed in the birds of his native land, to document all the species which live on his property so that they might start a sanctuary.  Through this work, they become much more friendly than men of their distinct classes might ordinarily become.  When World War I breaks out, both men join up and serve.  That's it.  If you're looking for action-packed writing you should look somewhere else. This is a contemplative reading experience about interaction between men and nature, men and themselves, men and each other.  Usually World War I is put forward as the start of mechanized warfare and the birth of a new brand of cruelty, but Fly Away Peter, while not selling the horror of the war short, also sees it as a leveler. Along with the death of chivalry, came the death not of class exactly, but death of the notion that the higher born were somehow more favored by the gods.  If a bomb went off in the trench, it could kill a poor woodsman or an Oxford-educated estate owner equally efficiently.  Fly Away Peter is about the rewards of gaining the perspective of other men or other creatures and, in that it offers some solace amidst all the inhumanity of war.

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