Caroline's Reviews > Fly Away Peter

Fly Away Peter by David Malouf
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May 06, 2008

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bookshelves: australian
Read in April, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Jim, employed by Ashley Crowther to record all the bird species that visit Ashley’s property, is uncomplicated. He takes each day as it comes, content with the small beauty around him, fascinated by the intricacies of life. He knows a lot about birds, and avoids thinking too hard about those things that he doesn’t understand – like his father, a brutal, unloving man who is best avoided. When war reaches Australia, Jim thinks little of it. As time moves on, the conflict an ocean away becomes unavoidable.

Jim joins up. He does so without too much real thought, and Imogen (his photographer friend, an older woman who lives by her own dreams and defies rumour) is dismayed. Ashley similarly is sent overseas, but he joins up as an officer.

The second half of the book illustrates Jim’s experiences in the trenches, with the mud, blood, the unimaginable carnage. The horror drags on for months, and little by little Jim comes apart. His narrative is fixed, focused, like a record snagged on the same groove. If he engages in battle, or kills anyone, it’s not known, though it is expected that he does. He observes and experiences the battle with the same detached devotion that he observed the birds on the beach in Queensland, it’s horrific, a study of the brutal destruction of a man’s soul, and ultimately of his life.

The book is shorter than I imagined it would be, and in some places it seems scant, devoid of detail. The ending leaves a bitter aftertaste and a realization of truth. No book about war can ever leave anything but, yet the novel goes beyond the actions and experience to the truth that the ‘past cannot be held’.
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