Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 4, 2011

Child’s Play (1982), by David Malouf

Child's PlayChild’s Play, David Malouf’s fourth novel, was first published in 1982, but it’s still in print.  Although it is, like many of his other novels, focussed on the themes of ‘male identity and soul-searching’  [1] it is certainly a departure from his other early works because it takes us back to the days of the Bologna Bombing in 1980 and the activities of the Red Brigades.   (Malouf lived in Tuscany for part of his early career).  It’s a chilling portrait of a terrorist, planning his attack, somewhere in Italy in a town named only as P.  The young man who narrates the story has been recruited to assassinate ‘one of Italy’s most beloved men of letters’.

He is calm and matter of fact about his task, describing how he makes his way to ‘work’ each day, where the team makes its careful preparations with research and photos and so on.  His tone is neutral; his description of Carla as the only one who looks like a fanatic is dispassionate.  So I noticed it straight away on page 32 when for the first time he referred to what they were going to do as a ‘crime’.

It’s a strange book, and an interesting scenario for Malouf to pursue.  When I started reading it, I found myself wondering if Malouf would have considered writing it post 9/11.  Events in Abbottabad yesterday coincided with finishing the book and now the international community is exploring the ethical issues about what happened there.

So it’s probably not a good time to review Child’s Play in any detail!

Damien Kelleher reviewed it  here.

©Lisa Hill

Author: David Malouf
Title: Child’s Play
Publisher: Vintage International, 1999, first published 1982
ISBN: 9780375701412
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond Child’s Play

[1] Gilling, Tom, “David Malouf: Writer”, The Weekend Australian Magazine, 2–3 August 2008, p. 28, see Wikipedia


  1. I read Child’s Play when it was first published, and still remember the voice of the terrorist, seemingly refined and humane, lulling me into almost going along with the crime and willing him to succeed. I felt I had become an accomplice. This wouldn’t have happened if a rationale for killing the famous writer had been given – the reader would have seen through it straightaway, and the act exposed as the senseless, barbaric killing that it is.

    Malouf skillfully shows how evil can integrate with other human qualities in the one personality, producing not the classic villain but a well-rounded, engaging, thoughtful guy who happens to believe that killing is justified in the pursuit of certain ends. This is done so well that it is, as you say, chilling.

    Of the Malouf novels I have read, Child’s Play had the biggest impact on me.


    • Hello Bryce, and welcome to chatting on ANZ LitLovers. (I’ve been keeping an eye on your blog too *smile*)
      I agree with what you say, I found myself almost empathasising with this guy, especially when he was talking about his relationship with his father. But even to postulate the idea that a terrorist can be ‘human’ rather than ‘mad’ is to enrage some people, such is the tenor of any discussion around these issues.
      There are those who think that the only way to deal with terrorism is to exterminate them all, but I don’t think that’s possible even if it were morally justifiable. My view (as with any other crime) is that sophisticated western nations ought to analyse the psychopathology of the perpetrators – and that involves trying to understand why they act the way they do.
      Updike wrote a similarly intelligent book called Terrorist…


  2. I recently read an italian book about terrorist from italy on the run ,didn’t know Malouf had written this based in italy as well oh may try this ,all the best stu


  3. […] David Malouf won the prize for Collected Stories and I have since read and reviewed Landscape of Farewell (and loved […]


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