Johnno by David Malouf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very quick, easy read. But at the same time it is full of trickery, mocking and great emotional depth. Its classic coming of age.
I think suburbia is a catalyst for the characters of Johnno and Dante. They have grown up in (different versions of) a suburban home and it has sculpted them into the young men they become. What is interesting is that both push for some sort of escapism. Johnno’s violent hatred of it is confronting, but Dante seems almost resigned to his ultimate ending.
What struck me most was the sense of escapism. Johnno is always running from something (or someone?) and he is always without certainty. He never has a real, fixed address and contact is sporadic and unreliable. There is an illusion to the absence of a father figure early in the text, something that is established as crucial for the development of a suburban male. Maybe this is the root of his problems? There are so many ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’ with Johnno.
There is a line in chapter two that summarises the book succinctly for me: “Australia was familiar and boring.” Familiar has positive connotations (comfort, homely, etc.), but boring is negative – something you try to avoid and escape from. There is a confliction in suburbia, and we must decide to either run or embrace it.