Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On one level, “The Last Days of a Famous Mime” examines the nature of art and the role of the artist. Although the story is abstract, its disjointed narrative suggests that it is a self-reflection on the writer’s own art. Peter Carey chose a specialized and rather obscure kind of artist to express his ideas about writing. However, a familiarity with Carey’s fiction helps to clarify the narrative, which can be read as a coded guide to his work before and after the story’s appearance in 1979. Carey has never celebrated love and laughter, as the mime attempted to do and failed.

In 1974 when his first collection of short stories, The Fat Man in History, was published, some Australian critics hailed the book as a daring departure in Australian fiction, and others found the violence and absurdist technique offensive. War Crimes, which appeared five years later, offered the same kind of narrative, as did his first novel, Bliss (1981). The novels that followed continued to practice the art of terror and to do so in an absurdist fashion. In particular, The Tax Inspector (1991) could be compared to the mime’s performances that drove people out of the theater, only to return for more horror. The narrative brims with incest, senseless violence, corruption, cruelty, depravity, and madness. Like the critic who questioned the need for the mime’s performance, many literary critics asked when The Tax Inspector...

(The entire section is 457 words.)