Carey, Peter (Vol. 96)
Peter Carey 1943–
Australian novelist and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Carey's career through 1995. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 40 and 55.
Praised for his inventive mixture of the fantastic, the comedic, and the ordinary, Carey often creates detailed, realistic settings into which he introduces surreal and fabulous events. Usually set in Australia, Carey's works address themes of nationhood and history as he satirizes contemporary social values, explores the illusory nature of reality, and self-consciously examines the art of fiction. Robert Towers has stated that "Carey's prose can hold the ugly, the frightening, and the beautiful in uncanny suspension. It is this gift, among others, that makes him such a strong and remarkable writer."
Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia, on May 7, 1943. After attending Monash University, he worked in advertising from 1962 to 1988. Carey's first major publication, the short-story collection The Fat Man in History, appeared in 1974; he published Bliss, his first novel, in 1981. Carey's works have received numerous awards in both Australia and England. Illywhacker (1985) for instance, was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1985; Oscar and Lucinda (1987) was awarded the Booker Prize in 1988. Carey has also taught writing at New York University and Princeton University.
Most of the stories in The Fat Man in History depict individuals who experience sudden anxieties when they encounter surreal events in commonplace situations. In others, Carey satirizes the effects of technology and foreign influences on Australian culture and society. In Bliss, Carey centers on Harry Joy, a man who dies for nine minutes and has an out-of-body experience through which he observes family members and friends involved in unseemly activities. Carey uses black humor and satire to examine hypocrisy, identity, and moral poverty in contemporary society. He also analyzes the function of stories and story-tellers in a community, as the novel embeds a number of stories within the larger structure of the novel. While much of the novel is related in straightforward, realistic detail, the allegorical plot transports Carey's protagonist from the "hell" of suburban life to a mental hospital and ultimately to a blissful life in a rain forest. Illywhacker is an expansive comic novel that relates the adventures of Herbert Badgery, a man who claims to be 139 years old. The novel's title is an Australian slang expression variously defined as "taleteller," trickster," "con man," and "liar," all of which describe Badgery's main talents. The central focus of Illywhacker is the art of lying; Badgery lies constantly in order to survive and improve his life, and Carey employs lying as a metaphor for writing fiction. The picaresque adventures of Badgery are related to Australian historical themes: Badgery was born near the time of Australia's independence from Great Britain, and the book's epigraph is a quote by Mark Twain: "Australian history does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies…." While introducing many characters and events and developing an intricate series of symbolic references involving animals, Carey explores such themes as colonization, technology, and human relationships. Oscar and Lucinda delineates the odd romance between Carey's eccentric title characters who are drawn together by their passion for gambling. The novel begins with Oscar's childhood in rural nineteenth-century Devon, England, where he lives with his father, a renowned naturalist and a preacher in the fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren sect. Gambling on what he believes is a sign from God, the adolescent Oscar reluctantly rebels against the teachings of his father and joins the Anglican Church. Later, at Oxford University Oscar relies on earnings from wagering on horse races to pay for his living expenses and tuition. The narrative also relates events in Lucinda's sheltered childhood in rural Australia, which ends at age eighteen with her mother's death. She uses her inheritance to purchase a glass factory and relocate to Sydney. Lucinda's brusque country manners and active management of her factory make her an outcast in Sydney, and gambling provides her only social outlet. After failing to engage in a more active social life during a stay in England, Lucinda meets Oscar on her return by boat to Australia, where he plans to begin a ministry. Oscar and Lucinda become involved in a strange, tragicomic love affair beset by frequent farcical misunderstandings, culminating with Oscar undertaking a horrific river journey through the Australian outback with materials for building an elaborate glass church. Oscar and Lucinda's expansive narrative is composed of more than one-hundred short chapters, gradually unfolding plot details, odd bits of information, direct addresses to the reader, and frequent use of glass and water imagery. The narrative also features a plethora of well-developed minor characters and authentic descriptions of nineteenth-century London, Sydney, Oxford, and rural New South Wales. As in Illywhacker, Carey endeavors in Oscar and Lucinda to reimagine Australian history. Set in Sydney, Australia, The Tax Inspector (1991) centers on the Catchprice family and Maria Takis, an investigator from the Australian Taxation Office, who has been sent to review the records of the Catchprice's auto dealership. The Catchprice family includes a bizarre group of characters: Granny Frieda Catchprice, who reported her children to the tax authorities because she feared she was going to be sent to a nursing home, is half-senile and carries explosives in her pocketbook; Frieda's middle-aged daughter Cathy dreams of becoming a country-western singer; and Frieda's 16-year-old grandson Benny believes he is an angel. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1995) concerns themes of national and cultural identity. The novel's protagonist is a citizen of Efica, an imaginary island nation that loosely resembles Australia. Efica has been colonized and exploited by Voorstand, a colossal world power which resembles the United States. Like those of Carey's previous works, the plot for The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is highly convoluted; Carey also provides an extensive historical background for Efica as well as a glossary of Efican dialect. At the center of the story is the Eficans' struggle to retain their cultural identity, which the Voorstanders attack through a high-tech, semi-religious entertainment spectacle known as the Sirkus. The principle characters in the Sirkus—Broder Mouse, Oncle Duck, and Hairy Man—bear close resemblance to the Walt Disney icons Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Horribly deformed at birth, the novel's narrator and title character searches for love and acceptance, which he finds after disguising himself in a Broder Mouse costume.
Commentators have often described Carey's works as metafictional; two of his novels, Bliss and Illywhacker, for instance, deal explicitly with telling stories and the relationship between truth and fiction. The use of fiction—lies, as Carey calls them—to support and justify social existence is an important theme in many of Carey's works. Scholars have noted that Carey typically attacks the reader's sense of narrative coherence, order, time, and sequence by providing conflicting versions of his narratives. Arguing that Carey views history as an act of selection, Graeme Turner has stated that Carey's "fantastic, alternative worlds … can always be seen as alternative perspectives on an historical world, questioning it and exposing its constructed, arbitrary nature." This line of thought also influences the direction Carey takes in his exploration of individual characters. Turner has suggested that Carey's novels and stories "do not examine what lives mean as much as they examine how lives are constructed in order to produce their meanings." Carey's talents for placing extraordinary events in mundane contexts and for exposing the absurd and corrupt aspects of everyday life have drawn extensive praise from critics and comparison to such writers as Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Samuel Beckett, and Jorge Luis Borges. Critics have noted Carey's interest in themes of nationhood, cultural identity, entrapment, and colonialism as well. Summarizing Carey's writing, A. J. Hassall has stated: "Like Beckett and Kafka,… and also like Swift, Carey defamiliarizes the stories from which 'reality' is constructed, exposing absurdities and corruptions so familiar that they customarily pass unnoticed and unchallenged."
The Fat Man in History (short stories) 1974
War Crimes (short stories) 1979
The Fat Man in History, and Other Stories (short stories) 1980; also published as Exotic Pleasures, 1981
Bliss (novel) 1981
Illywhacker (novel) 1985
Bliss: The Screenplay [adaptor, with Ray Lawrence; from Carey's novel] (screenplay) 1986; also published as Bliss, the Film, 1986
Oscar and Lucinda (novel) 1987
The Tax Inspector (novel) 1991
Collected Stories (short stories) 1994
A Letter to Our Son (nonfiction) 1994
The Big Bazoohley (juvenilia) 1995
The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (novel) 1995
(The entire section is 76 words.)
SOURCE: "An Infinite Onion: Narrative Structure in Peter Carey's Fiction," in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, October, 1983, pp. 195-204.
[In the following essay, Dovey remarks on the mythic qualities of Carey's fiction, focusing her analysis on Bliss.]
It is a common practice of current literary critics to reveal how the subject matter of various literary works is in fact narrative itself, and from the structuralist perspective the process of creating the narrative is the only subject matter there can be. The increasing self-reflexiveness of post-modernist novels deals with the nature of narrative in a largely explicit manner, but Todorov claims [in The Poetics of Prose, 1977] that even the earliest narrative, the Odyssey, has as its theme 'the narrative forming the Odyssey'. So when I say of Peter Carey that his novel and his stories are concerned with the nature of narrative, and with the forms and functions of fiction, I am claiming nothing new, either for myself or for Carey. And Bliss makes it evident that Peter Carey claims nothing new for himself. Harry Joy becomes the storyteller at Bog Onion Road but, the narrator tells us, 'He never thought of what he did as original. It wasn't either…. He was merely sewing together the bright patchwork of lives, legends, myths, beliefs, hearsay into a splendid cloak that gave a rich glow to all their lives.'...
(The entire section is 4876 words.)
SOURCE: "American Dreaming: The Fictions of Peter Carey," in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 12, No. 4, October, 1986, pp. 431-41.
[In the following essay, an earlier draft of which was presented at the conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in July 1986, Turner outlines the major characteristics of Carey's fiction and discusses Carey's use of "American" formal devices to create literature with Australian themes.]
Arguments around the concepts of nationalism and internationalism are familiar presences in discussions of Australian literature and other areas of cultural production, such as Australian film. Within such discussions, the internationalist position recommends itself as a kind of sophistication, a smoothing over of the rough edges of parochialism, and the embodiment of wider, even universal, standards of achievement. Peter Carey has been hailed as an international writer. The Sydney Morning Herald review of Bliss [October 10, 1981] is representative in its typing of Carey as a writer who 'finally brings Australia out of the last stubborn crannies of provincialism' and into a 'new universality and sophistication.' Reviewers may divide on such issues as the 'Australian-ness' of Illywhacker, but sophistication is a word which occurs regularly in accounts of Carey's fiction. Most often, this sophistication is seen to be primarily stylistic or...
(The entire section is 5031 words.)
SOURCE: "More Tramps at Home: Seeing Australia First," in Meanjin, Vol. 46, No. 3, September, 1987, pp. 400-09.
[In the following excerpt, Thwaites argues that Illywhacker is a self-referential text in the tradition of Samuel Beckett's novels.]
Many reviewers (here, and in England and the United States) have treated Illywhacker relatively unproblematically as either a realist text or a contemporary version of older genres, such as the tall tale. It obviously has much in common with various pre-modernist types of narrative: for a start, it is dominated by a first-person narrative from a narrator who seems to tell the story from a position of relative omniscience.
Herbert Badgery is a story-teller of immense gusto and confidence. Doubtless, Badgery would like to be thought of as a masterful narrator. The first two pages of the novel are full of self-sung praise for his storytelling abilities: 'lying is my main subject, my specialty, my skill'. But then, on the other hand, the very first paragraph also lets us know that something, somewhere along the line, has gone very wrong: 'It is hard to believe you can feel so bad and still not die'. Badgery is a captive, to an extent that will only be fully revealed almost 600 pages later. If his narration seems masterful, little else about him does: he is resentfully old, decrepit, unable even to die. The confidence seems a trick, the...
(The entire section is 3735 words.)
SOURCE: "Lies for Sale: Peter Carey," in Liars: Australian New Novelists, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 148-84.
[Daniel is an Australian critic. In the following excerpt, she provides an overview of Carey's works through Oscar and Lucinda.]
Illywhacker opens with the Liar's paradox: 'I am a terrible liar and I have always been a liar.' Herbert announces this early 'to set things straight'. He urges us not to waste time trying to 'pull apart the strands of lies and truth, but to relax and enjoy the show'. He is a liar and a showman, and he is also a salesman. He gives fair warning to the buyer, but he is a good salesman, his goods are glossy, and the caveat becomes a forgotten small-print clause. Herbert is a used-car salesman and, with his 'salesman's sense of history', he is also selling us used-history, second-hand history. So who is the previous owner of this history Herbert Badgery is selling? What kind of deal have they got going between them? Badgery is the go-between in the business of the Lie, the showman in the showroom, the previous owner, Peter Carey. As Herbert sells us second-hand history, Carey is outside the showroom, Carey-Escher watching Herbert Badgery's hands drawing each other. The Liar is Carey, the reader is the buyer, and the real business deal is the Lie of fiction. Caveat emptor.
Herbert Badgery is not only negotiating with the reader to sell us...
(The entire section is 14830 words.)
SOURCE: "Telling Lies and Stories: Peter Carey's Bliss," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4, Winter, 1989, pp. 637-53.
[Hassall is an Australian educator and critic. In the following essay, he provides a thematic analysis of Bliss.]
There are many stories in Peter Carey's Bliss and not a few lies, but there is one story that enjoys a special, privileged status. This is the story of Little Titch that Harry Joy invents under duress and tells to Constable Box and Sergeant Hastings, "the only original story he would ever tell." I want to examine the story of Little Titch, and the sequence of other stories in which it is embedded, as a point of entry into Carey's larger "story" in Bliss, the bildungsroman of Harry Joy's mid-life crisis, his fall into hell, and his eventual attaining of "bliss." A story about telling stories, Bliss is postmodern in its awareness of the problematic nature of trying "to grasp reality through a fictitious construct" [Elizabeth Wright, "Modern Psychoanalytic Criticism," in Modern Literary Theory, edited by Ann Jefferson and David Robey, 1986], and yet it uses such problematic stories to make narrative sense of extra-fictional experience.
The story of Daniel or Little Titch is a double parable of survival in a brutal world. Titch's mother survives, despite her diminutive size, by displaying her disability—notably in the...
(The entire section is 7422 words.)
SOURCE: "Is the (Günter) Grass Greener on the Other Side? Oskar and Lucinde in the New World," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 1-10.
[In the following essay, Huggan compares Carey's Oscar and Lucinda to Günter Grass's The Tin Drum, arguing that Carey's novel is an allegorical critique of colonialism.]
By the final stages of Günter Grass's notorious novel The Tin Drum, first published in 1959, the rebellious dwarf Oskar and his counter-rhythmical drum have achieved cult status. "What we cured best of all," gloats Oskar, "was loss of memory. The word 'Oskarism' made its first appearance, but not, I am sorry to say, its last." No doubt Oskar would be perversely delighted to know that "Oskarism" is still alive and well, with disciples all over the post-colonial world. For Grass's novel has held a particular fascination for post-colonial writers, among them Salman Rushdie, whose aberrant symbolic child Saleem Sinai in the 1981 novel Midnight's Children, like Grass's Oskar, incorporates the contradictions of his age; and Nuruddin Farah, whose ambivalent narrator Askar in the 1986 novel Maps is first glorified, then vilified, as "the 'epic' child of the modern times."
At once rebellious against and complicitous in the socio-political divisions of their respective countries, Saleem and Oskar counteract their...
(The entire section is 4263 words.)
SOURCE: "'It Cannot Not Be There': Borges and Australia's Peter Carey," in Borges and His Successors: The Borgesian Impact on Literature and the Arts, edited by Edna Aizenberg, University of Missouri Press, 1990, pp. 44-58.
[In the following essay, Ross focuses on Carey's short stories as he speculates on the influence of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges's works on Carey's artistic development.]
You're quite right when you suggest that it might be difficult to say exactly how Borges may have influenced me, also right to suggest that the influence is/was there…. It is there, it cannot not be there.
—PETER CAREY, letter
On first reading Peter Carey's writing, I found it different from other Australian literature, and I resolved this encounter with the unexpected by making broad and perhaps obvious comparisons: Carey belongs more to the world tradition than to the Australian; more specifically, his work suggests South American writers, such as Borges and García Márquez, or North Americans like Barth, Barthelme, Vonnegut, and Kesey, or Europeans like Kafka and Camus—all facile enough parallels to draw. In fact, Australian reviewers had already said much the same about Carey's work, one observing, for example, that "his music is more international...
(The entire section is 6516 words.)
SOURCE: "Recognizing Jack," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4613, August 30, 1991, p. 21.
[White is an American novelist, short story writer, and critic. Below, he favorably reviews The Tax Inspector.]
Peter Carey has an approach to the novel destined to make him one of the most widely read and admired writers working in English. His characters are well motivated but not all shade and nuance. Instead, they are drawn with a firm bounding line and they quickly leave an indelible mark on the memory. His language is straightforward but supple enough, semantically and syntactically, to be fully expressive. His plots unfold chronologically. There are no tedious post-modernist high jinks undermining the authority of the text. He has a strong sense of place—in this book [The Tax Inspector] a decaying garage like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Indeed, his visual sense, the novelist's most essential gift, is astonishingly clear; his people are never just voices nattering on in the dark, as is so often the case in commercial fiction. They are always well lit and about to do something strange and suitable.
The Tax Inspector (a title that makes one think of Gogol's The Government Inspector with its comic and religious overtones) is about the sudden appearance of a handsome Greek woman, Maria Takis, who has come to examine the fraudulent books of a family...
(The entire section is 1148 words.)
SOURCE: "Titans of the Junkyard," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 29, 1991, pp. 3, 8.
[An American critic and journalist, Eder received the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1987. In the review below, he remarks on the characters in The Tax Inspector.]
Three generations of Catchprices run a failing General Motors dealership in the slummy outskirts of Sydney, Australia. Frieda, the octogenarian matriarch, interferes, sulks and carries gelignite in her pockets as another woman might carry Mace. Cathy, her husky daughter, runs the business end but belts out country-and-Western ballads, and yearns for stardom. Her brother, Mort, a mild, hairy man, runs the shop while dreaming of a quiet little garage of his own. Jack, the other brother, has broken away to become a rich downtown developer.
As for the grandchildren, Mort's sons: Vish is a Hare Krishna, but keeps getting dragged into the family's stormy councils; 16-year-old Benjamin, glittering and deranged, has a prophetic determination to turn the crumbling business into a dazzling money-spinner.
But it is not simply an eccentric family that Peter Carey has created in The Tax Inspector. The Catchprices are a race of ramshackle Titans, the Gods' doomed predecessors. Monstrous, deformed and often very funny, they threaten to pull in anyone who comes near their collapsing universe.
(The entire section is 1070 words.)
SOURCE: "House of Cards," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. 39, No. 12, June 25, 1992, pp. 35-6.
[Towers was an American educator, novelist, and critic. In the following review, he surveys Carey's previous novels and remarks favorably on The Tax Inspector, praising the novel's arresting prose and elaborate yet coherent structure.]
The Australian writer Peter Carey is little known in the US, although for the last few years he has been living in New York and teaching at New York University. His lack of following is as mystifying as it is regrettable, since his novels contain scenes so powerfully visualized and characters so various in their eccentricity, willfulness, goodness, and depravity that it is hard not to mention Dickens or Balzac when one is writing about them. Carey has a wide readership in both his native Australia and in Britain, where his third novel, Oscar and Lucinda, won the Booker Prize in 1988. American readers are not likely to be put off by Carey's sexual frankness (and occasional scurrility) or by his taste for sudden violence. Can it be that they find something boring in reading about Australia, where (they may think) banal vestiges of a British colonial heritage coexist with a brainless Californian hedonism? Nothing could be further from the grotesque yet eerily familiar world of Carey's novel [The Tax Inspector].
Indeed, it has taken Carey...
(The entire section is 2782 words.)
SOURCE: "Principia Efica," in London Review of Books, Vol. 16, No. 18, September 22, 1994, p. 5.
[Coe is an English journalist, novelist, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following review, he discusses The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, praising the novel as a successful investigation of cultural imperialism and national character.]
Like his near-namesake, Tristram Shandy, the unlikely hero of Peter Carey's new novel [The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith] begins the story of his life at the very beginning. While he doesn't go into quite as much detail about the moment of his conception, he appears to have a very clear memory of the minutes leading up to his delivery. As his mother leaves her theatre (where she has been rehearsing the Scottish Play) and sets out for the hospital,
things started happening faster than she had expected. Oxytocin entered her bloodstream like a ten-ton truck and all the pretty soft striped muscles of her womb turned hostile, contracting on me like they planned to crush my bones. I was caught in a rip. I was dumped. I was shoved into the birth canal, head first, my arm still pinned behind my back. My ear got folded like an envelope. My head was held so hard it felt, I swear it, like the end of life and not its glorious beginning.
From then on, there is little that is glorious about...
(The entire section is 1928 words.)
SOURCE: "An E-Ticket Ride," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 5, 1995, pp. 3, 8.
[In the review below, Eder comments favorably on The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, but finds the second half of the novel less compelling than the first.]
If the 17th-Century Dutch hero, Admiral Tromp, had used a bigger broom—he attached it to his mast to signal that he was about to sweep the English from the seas—perhaps our world would have resembled the one set out in Peter Carey's prickly futurist fantasy. In The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, the era's dominant military, economic and cultural empire resembles the United States in a number of ways, except that its heritage, like that of white South Africa, is not British but Dutch.
The empire is called Voorstand. It is a vast continental realm, run by a moneyed class that speaks a kind of Dutch-Afrikaans patois and pays lip service to a tradition of sturdy Godfearing settlers, while living in high-tech luxury and treating the slum-dwellers in its decaying capital as fourth-class citizens. It uses cash, guns and an intelligence service to protect its interests around the world.
A few of these interests—an underground naval-communications network and a nuclear-waste dump—reside in the fragile island nation of Efica, somewhere in the South Atlantic. The Eficans, descended from French and English settlers,...
(The entire section is 1104 words.)
SOURCE: "Voorstand, Go Home!," in The New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1995, p. 7.
[An American-born Canadian novelist, poet, playwright, and critic, Shields won a Pulitzer Prize and a Governor General's Award for her novel The Stone Diaries (1993). In the review below, she remarks favorably on The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith.]
Peter Carey has always been a novelist of size. Previous novels like The Tax Inspector and Oscar and Lucinda were big books constructed around large ideas. Now, with The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, he gives his readers a new big novel, his most ambitious to date. The word "unusual" in the title is a tossed pebble of understatement. Tristan Smith's life is brimful of extravagant sorrows and conflicting loyalties, of self-hatred and well-tended hubris. His voice, which dominates the narrative, is the intelligent, freakish voice of an actor miscast in the world and in his body.
Tristan's journey toward disillusionment begins in parable—the tale of an ugly, half-orphaned child—then lurches in its second half toward full picaresque flamboyance. Finally, in the closing chapters, amid a chaos of greed and compromise, Tristan arrives at a post-modern world as bleak as any we've seen in contemporary fiction. This is a novel crowded with incident—also with excrement, urine, blood and drool—but it is, in the end, a sustained...
(The entire section is 968 words.)
SOURCE: "Out of Efica," in The Village Voice, Vol. XL, No. 9, February 28, 1995, p. 59.
[In the following review, which also includes comments from an interview with Carey, Woodward discusses themes in and the inspiration for The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith.]
Like many strangers in this strange land, Peter Carey found himself beguiled against his will on his first visit to that cradle of American postmodernism, Disneyworld. For the Australian novelist, the sight of Mickey and Minnie greeting well-wishers along the vacuumed streets of their Potemkin village was like walking into Baudrillard's wet dream.
"They were like royalty, like Ron and Nancy," says Carey, sounding cheerfully appalled on half a bottle of lunchtime wine. Fifty-one, with an unruly, clownish thatch of hair and a lopsided grin that leaves deep ripples in his cheeks, he is genial soul whose comic tone often oxidizes on the page into something dark and strange. His seriousness sneaks up on you.
"I started to wonder how these creatures could inhabit a society, the way that Santa Claus does," he says. "I wanted to invent their moral roots in America. What was the Christian idealism that led to this tacky, tawdry business?"
Carey's new novel, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, is being read and celebrated in the Southern hemisphere as a wicked Candide-like allegory about American...
(The entire section is 1824 words.)
SOURCE: "Parallel Universes," in The New Republic, Vol. 212, No. 15, April 10, 1995, pp. 38-41.
[In the review below, Heyward examines themes of cultural and national identity in The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith.]
Peter Carey knows that the novelist's greatest freedom is the freedom to invent. He is an artificer, a fabulist whose work, with its gestures toward fantasy and science fiction, has always had the spectacular credibility and the irrevocable logic of dreams. When his short stories, with their hapless characters trapped in eerie, claustrophobic landscapes, began to appear in Australia in the 1970s, one thing was obvious: anything could happen in them. A man could become a truck. Aliens might invade and introduce a genetic lottery. People found their hands turning blue. Carey's imagery was vivid, surreal, scary. Australian fiction was never like this.
As Carey grew more confident, the short story became insufficient for his purposes. In the longer stories and in the novels that followed—Bliss (1981), Illywhacker (1985), Oscar and Lucinda (1988), The Tax Inspector (1991)—he learned how to stitch one incident into another to create the sensation of an unstoppable plot. He never abandoned the clean, lean prose of the early work. It was if he suspected that the trappings of art would interfere with the drive to communicate his fictional universe. This...
(The entire section is 3044 words.)
Adam, Ian. "Breaking the Chain: Anti-Saussurean Resistance in Birney, Carey and C. S. Peirce." In Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism, edited by Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin, pp. 79-93. University of Calgary Press, 1990.
Compares Earle Birney's narrative poem "David" and Carey's story "Do You Love Me?," focusing on the father-figures in the stories and their Oedipal relations.
Daniel, Helen. "'The Liar's Lump' or 'A Salesman's Sense of History': Peter Carey's Illywhacker." Southerly, No. 2 (June 1986): 157-67.
Describes Illywhacker as an "extraordinary conception of the nature of truth and reality."
Glover, Douglas. "Australia on My Mind." Chicago Tribune (19 February 1995): 5.
States that The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is "about the place where nation, myth and the personal intersect."
Grimes, William. "An Australian Novelist with a Full-Tilt Pace and Ferocious Humor." New York Times (28 January 1992): C11, C15.
Includes a review of The Tax Inspector as well as comments from an interview with Carey.
Hensher, Philip. "Heaven, Hell and Disneyland."...
(The entire section is 480 words.)