The postcolonial search for national identity dominates Peter Carey’s fiction. An Australian by birth, Carey moved to New York in the late 1980’s, but he continued to address the concerns that have characterized his work from the outset: Australian national consciousness (or that of any postcolonial country), the inherited burden of colonialism, history’s lies, and a fascination with the center—that is, New York or London. To enlarge on these themes, Carey has experimented radically in fictional forms.
Born in a country town—Bacchus Marsh, Victoria—Carey grew up in a family whose men worked as car salesmen and aviators. He attended Geelong Grammar School, a venerable Australian institution patterned after a British boys’ school. He then moved to Victoria’s capital, Melbourne—one of those almost London-like cities that dot the world’s far-flung English-speaking outposts. After a year studying science at Monash University, Carey joined a Melbourne advertising agency. During 1968 he made the requisite stay in London, then settled in Sydney, where he continued his advertising career, interrupted by spells in a commune in Queensland’s rain forest. After serving as artist-in-residence at New York University in 1990, he remained in New York, where he writes and occasionally teaches classes in creative writing, including stints at Princeton and Columbia universities. He has traveled extensively in the United States and Europe, giving readings and attending conferences, where he promotes not only his own work but that of fellow Australian writers as well.
When Carey’s short stories appeared, first in Australian journals, then in two collections, they immediately attracted admirers at home and abroad. Both The Fat Man in History and War Crimes record the Australian experience in ways far afield from the social realism that long dominated the country’s fiction. At times futuristic and apocalyptic, in other instances revolutionary and paranoid, always satirical and ironic, the stories usually have no specific settings, nothing local about them, as they squarely confront the issues and problems faced by a postcolonial people.
Although Carey’s first novel, Bliss, is his weakest, it displays the energy, fantastic qualities, and originality that saw better use in his following work. The...
(The entire section is 965 words.)