In Illywhacker, Carey develops in depth the themes and style he introduced in The Fat Man in History (1974), a collection of short stories, and Bliss (1981), his first novel. One reason for the length of Illywhacker, however, is that in it Carey writes, far more fully than before, about his native Australia. The subject clearly compels him for all of its length, Illywhacker appears not overlong, but bursting to expand.
In Illywhacker, as in his other works, Carey writes in a vigorous satirical style whose language is down-to-earth but whose structure is sophisticated. All of Carey’s works feature rigorous attention to physical details. In Illywhacker, Herbert’s infatuation with the ordinary he tells, for example, why there are few things in the world more useful than a Hessian bag has a clear thematic purpose. It suggests, for example, the way the pioneers and even recent citizens of the historically young country have been forced to eke out a living from whatever was at hand.
Black humor also is a constant feature of Carey’s writing. In Illywhacker, Carey’s dark satire has found an ideal vehicle in Herbert Badgery, who minutely inspects every event, person, and thing. The result is always humorous and generally satirical. Carey’s, like Badgery’s, is a mind that will not agree with polite society that certain things, such as bodily functions and trash, can be blithely ignored. Themes common in other works that also appear here include the nature of colonization, particularly at the hands of American cultural influence.