Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

There is no resort to the supernatural or to obvious allegory in Peter Carey’s third-person narration, but the oblique presentation of events colors the whole story with shadows of the unreal. Contributing to this effect is the division of the story into twenty sections, some very brief, with no transitions between them. Section 17, for instance, ends with Fantoni entering the room where Florence Nightingale has been found in bed with the nameless roomer, and without explanation, section 18 follows with Glino vomiting with vegetarian horror from what becomes clear was the consuming of the barbecued Fantoni. Apparently Fantoni had been strangled with a blue sheet, presumably one of the sheets that Finch steals at the story’s outset. This bit of foreshadowing has correlates: At one point Florence Nightingale tells Finch not to be frightened of Fantoni for “he won’t eat you.”

Carey is adept at description. Finch’s plight is poignant when he considers his bulk: “He is Alexander Finch, thirty-five years old, very fat, very tired, and suddenly, hopelessly sad. He has four large rolls of fat descending like a flesh curtain suspended from his navel. His spare tyres. He holds the fat in his hand, clenching it, wishing to tear it away. He clenches it until it hurts, and then clenches harder.” When Fantoni eats the omelette Glino prepares for him, “He buries the dainty pieces in the small fleshy orifice beneath his large moustache.”

These vivid descriptions are complemented by the way Carey catches the men wrestling with their private demons. Finch’s despair is matched by the agony of the sexually frantic May, who writes fruitless letters to his wife and leaves blood all over the front door after battering it for three hours with his head.

Numerous allusions enrich the texture of the prose and deepen the characterizations. Besides the “Blue Danube” played by Glino, May plays his only piece of music, a Sibelius record, “incessantly.” Finch reveals considerable feeling for cultural “bric-à-brac,” including a Rubens print, postcard reproductions of renaissance paintings, an early Iceland map, and a Botticelli book that he examines “gently, loving the expensive paper as much as the reproductions.”