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The Conversations at Curlow Creek by David Malouf (thoughts)

May 20, 2013

Conversations at Curlowe Creek
I think I’ve gotten The Conversations at Curlow Creek by David Malouf out from the library at least three times and returned it unread. I keep getting it because I loved his novel Remembering Babylon and wanted to read more of him, but somehow I never got around to picking it up. Finally, a couple of days before it was due yet again, I decided enough was enough and began reading.

It only took a few pages for me to fall under Malouf’s spell: this book is so, so good. Taking place in the nineteenth century, set partly in his native Australia, set partly in Ireland, the novel is structured around a night spent in the remote Outback, at Curlow Creek, where an outlaw will be hung by four policeman in the morning. Three of those are lower class Australians who have been ‘cleaning up the bush’ as officials for weeks and happened to capture a gang of Irishmen who escaped from prison duty. The fourth, Michael, has been sent from Sydney to oversee the execution; he’s the Crown’s representative to make the hanging more official, but it quickly becomes clear he has a personal investment in conversing with the convicted man. Woven in between the Australian scenes are Michael’s remembrances of his Irish childhood, in which the reader learns more about why he’s in Australia and who he’s hoping to find.

This is one of those exquisite novels that combines a variety of characters who all feel powerfully real (and have distinct voices) with a plot that raises profound philosophical questions in a marvelously drawn setting that brings the reader to the place and is told in a perfectly controlled tone of voice. It’s the kind of novel that makes me reach for ever more adjectives and adverbs, even though I know they’re a sign of weak writing, to try to convey just how wonderful it is. And it’s the kind of novel that I never describe to my own satisfaction and in the end can only throw my hands up and say “go read it already!”.

I can’t recommend it enough to those who enjoy smart but compelling stories, literary fiction, international fiction with a strong sense of place, or readers who love novels that tease out the nuances of relationships between people and ideas. And I know I won’t be waiting four years until to read another Malouf!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. theconfabulist permalink
    May 20, 2013 5:43 am

    Hi! I nominated you for a Liebster Award — it’s a sort of fun award/meme that’s passed around by bloggers. You can check it out here:

  2. May 20, 2013 10:03 am

    There are a couple novels I have out from the library right now that this is my second or third time bringing them home. Thanks for giving me the push to read them this time. You’re right: enough is enough!

  3. May 20, 2013 10:26 am

    Thanks for yet another book you have convinced me to try.
    In the past, I remember your asking for suggestions about comfort reads by people of color. I look for them, too, and keep running across books and authors and wondering if you know them. Ying Lee, a Chinese Canadian’s series of Agency spy novels. She has a PhD in Victorian Life and Literature and sets them in 19th century London. Malla Nunn’s South African mysteries. Potiki, which I just reviewed.
    I hope you are doing OK. I miss you when you don’t post.

    • May 22, 2013 2:40 pm

      Thanks Marilyn! I’m doing better, but my RA has worsened, so I’m still trying to figure out how to comment on other bloggers’ posts w/o destroying my hands.

      I’ve read all of Lee’s books! (Although I thought she was from Singapore?) They’re definitely comfort reading. :D

      I’ve also read 2 of Nunn’s, but I wouldn’t call them comfort reading, because they’re so much grittier & violent. Which makes sense, given her setting, and they’re v well written, but I definitely don’t find them relaxing. You know?

  4. May 20, 2013 2:43 pm

    I’m intrigued! Had to rush and reserve this one from the library to get a closer look.:)

  5. May 21, 2013 10:21 am

    I’ve made a note of this one. I don’t think I’ve read anything by David Malouf though I have heard good things about his books.

  6. May 21, 2013 8:32 pm

    I also haven’t read a single book by Malouf. This one sounds fascinating, quite unlike my usual fare but very powerful. I’m afraid that I often take out library books that are then returned unread; sometimes I just like to have a little visit with them ;)

  7. May 27, 2013 9:04 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who repeatedly checks books out before getting to them :) And I’m glad you ended up enjoying it so much when you got to it!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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