An Imaginary Life with David Malouf
Samantha Jonscher disappoints herself.
Over drinks one night, I was informed by a friend of mine, Bella*, that another friend of mine, Greg*, apparently, used to scribe for David Malouf. David Malouf being the internationally acclaimed Australian author. Greg being absent from weekly trivia drinks.
I really really like David Malouf. So I asked my friend Bella to tell me everything she knew.
They had been neighbours since Greg was small, she said. David sometimes babysat for Greg, she said. David and Greg’s parents were friends, she said. Then, she said, when Greg was old enough, David asked Greg to come over and do some typing for him, while he dictated. Greg was David Malouf’s scribe.
I did the timeline. Maybe Greg wrote (in the most literal sense) Ransom, maybe he wrote Dream Stuff and Every Move You Make, maybe some of his essays, poetry?
This was all the more exciting to discover because David Malouf seems seriously preoccupied with childhood innocence.
Malouf’s stories are of early memory, of first contact, of naivety, but also of corruption, trauma, disillusionment and that moment of self-awareness that comes when you realise that world is what it is. It seemed so perfect to me that to write these stories—painful stories and honest stories—he used a young boy as his translator, from his mouth to the page, reimbursed for his time. Perhaps little Greg was not the first? Maybe there was another young scribe before Greg.
I imagined a miniature Greg, sitting behind a typewriter—for some reason—as David paced behind him.
I had to speak to Greg about this casual job he held in his childhood. We arranged to meet, with David’s permission of course.
Over udon, across from Railway Square, Greg said that I had been terribly misled. Yes, he knew David. Yes, David babysat him as a child. Yes, his parents were friends with David. But Greg had not written any of his books. He did look over an essay once, and help him do some academic busy work—for which he was reimbursed and age 21. But he didn’t write David’s novels.
I was disappointed to say the least (although it made sense, young children are not known for their spelling nor their transcription skills).
I had re-read An Ordinary Life with this tableau in mind. I imagined little Greg, or a different little Greg, as the Child and Malouf as Ovid. The Child is savage, wild, innocent. He is the only one there to bear witness to Ovid’s genius in exile and after time it seems the Child, in his savage innocence, is the thing that gives Ovid’s art existence, reassuring him that he is still alive, still real—without him, without his reflection, Ovid and his art do not exist. But the Child also frees Ovid from his culture, from Rome, from the Universe. To think of a little Greg pulling David into this world to remind of him of what is true was beautiful.
But obviously not the case. Malouf, one assumes, is fine all on his own.
*Names have been changed.