First set on the Queensland coast just before the World War of 1914 and later on the battlefields of Europe, Fly Away Peter is a narration in the third person based around Jim Saddler and Ashley Crowther, two dreamers and bird enthusiasts in their early 20’s. They are satisfied to do little more than sit back, content in their belief that this happiness will remain unchanged forever. But low and behold, the migration to the war and the fearful trenches of France is an inescapable journey that must be undertaken by a rather reluctant Jim, who feels ‘the drag upon him from all those deaths’ , and that ‘the ground before him … had suddenly titled in the direction of Europe, in the direction of events’. Ashley later joins him, and the two young men are plunged headfirst into a nightmare world of degradation, fear, filth and haunting memories.
David Malouf is quite distinctive in his approach to a number of universal themes that have been constantly repeated and reworded in literature for centuries. This stems partially from his unique poetic style, as well as from his belief that “We can and must transcend the conditions we find ourselves in, however terrible they may be”. By creating three unique characters to portray the essence of this ideal, Malouf skilfully develops his main themes of predetermination, continuity, and the natural cycle of time.
Fly Away Peter is a novel that appears to imply that human existence is predetermined or controlled by some higher power. This is illustrated quite early in the text, where Jim, a self-confessed drifter who lacks directions simply stumbles into his dream job. Ashley and Jim, who come from contrasting social classes, are drawn together by their mutual love for birds and their unconscious need for order and permanency. This curious relationship implies that not only were Jim and Ashley fated to meet, but also develop an everlasting bond between each other and the land.
The idea that destiny is beyond the control...