Peter Carey Carey, Peter (Vol. 183) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Peter Carey 1943-

Australian novelist, short story writer, children's writer, screenwriter, and travel writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Carey's career through 2003. See also, Peter Carey Criticism.

Carey is widely acknowledged as one of the most accomplished and successful Australian novelists of recent decades and is one of a handful—along with Thomas Keneally, David Malouf, and Tim Winton—who command an international reputation. Carey's novels and short-story collections have won virtually every major literary award in Australia, and his international reputation was confirmed when he won a second Booker Prize in 2001, a feat equaled only by the South African author J. M. Coetzee. 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 postcolonial nationhood and history as he satirizes contemporary social values, explores the illusory nature of reality, and self-consciously examines the art of fiction.

Biographical Information

Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia, on May 7, 1943. His parents, Percival Stanley and Helen Jean, owned a local automobile dealership. He attended Geelong Grammar School, an exclusive private school, and later enrolled in the science program at Monash University. After receiving failing grades his first year, Carey dropped out of Monash in 1962 and began working as an advertising copywriter in Melbourne. In 1964 he married Leigh Weetman, though the couple later separated. From 1967 to 1970, Carey lived in London and traveled extensively in Europe. During this period, he wrote three novels that were not published and had his first short stories published. Carey's first major work, The Fat Man in History, a short story collection, was published by the University of Queensland Press in 1974. Eventually returning to Australia, Carey moved into an alternative community near Yandina in southern Queensland in 1977. While living in Yandina, Carey wrote the majority of the stories in his second collection War Crimes (1979). The publication of his first novel, Bliss, in 1981 built on Carey's burgeoning literary celebrity and established him as a major contributor to Australian letters. In 1985 Carey collaborated with Ray Lawrence to compose the screenplay adaptation of Bliss. Carey married theater director Alison Margaret Summers in 1984, with whom he has two sons. Carey moved his family to the United States in 1989, teaching creative writing at New York University and Princeton University. His works have received numerous awards both in Australia and abroad. War Crimes was awarded the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award in 1980, and Bliss received the Miles Franklin Award, the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award, and the National Book Council Award. Illywhacker (1985) won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the National Book Council Award as well as being nominated for the Booker Prize in 1985. Carey eventually won the Booker Prize twice for Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and True History of the Kelly Gang (2000). Illywhacker, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), and Jack Maggs (1997) were all recipients of The Age Book of the Year Award, while Jack Maggs and True History of the Kelly Gang won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1998 and 2001, respectively.

Major Works

Most of Carey's short stories—collected in The Fat Man in History, War Crimes, The Fat Man in History and Other Stories (1980), and Collected Stories (1994)—center around individuals who experience sudden anxieties when they encounter surreal and absurd events in commonplace situations. Additionally, Carey's short fiction offers satirical perspective on the effects of technology and foreign influences on Australian culture and the postcolonial burden of owing one's ancestry to a former colonizing power. In such stories as “The Puzzling Nature of Blue,” “Report on the Shadow Industry,” and “American Dreams,” Carey analyzes the pervasive influence of the political on the personal as well as the illusory appeals of artistic creation. Bliss continues Carey's penchant for satire in a novel that examines different kinds of stories and storytelling. The novel's protagonist is Harry Joy, an overworked advertising executive who suffers a near-fatal heart attack. Upon recovering from life-threatening open-heart surgery, Joy believes that he died during the operation and is now living in hell. He discovers that his wife is cheating on him with a close friend, and his seemingly lethargic son is actually a drug dealer who forces his sister—Joy's daughter—to commit incest in return for drugs. Joy also discovers that his advertising company maintains a map indicating cancer density for the area, with accountability traced to the company's clients. Joy eventually renounces his work, causing his wife to commit him to a mental institution, where he ironically finds happiness and fulfillment. Carey's tone becomes less satiric and more overtly comedic in his next novel Illywhacker. The term “illywhacker” is Australian slang for a liar or trickster, which accurately describes the novel's central character, the 139-year-old Herbert Badgery. Badgery lies constantly in order to survive and improve his life, and Carey draws parallels between Badgery's picturesque adventures and Australia's development as a nation following its independence from England. In Oscar and Lucinda, Carey again endeavors to re-imagine and re-evaluate Australian history. Set in the Victorian era, the title characters are drawn together by their passion for gambling. Oscar takes a “gamble” as a young man by following what he believes is a sign from God and joins the Anglican Church, using his winnings from horse races to pay for his living expenses as a clergyman. Lucinda is an heiress who “gambles” her family inheritance on buying a glass factory and relocating to Sydney. The two characters meet on an ocean voyage and become involved in a tragicomic love affair. Oscar and Lucinda's expansive narrative is composed of numerous short chapters, gradually unfolding plot details, vivid imagery, and symbolic references to water and glass.

Carey returns to the modern era with The Tax Inspector (1991), creating a postmodern tale with plot twists, bizarre characters, and gruesome yet compelling situations. Maria—an unmarried, pregnant tax inspector—comes to investigate the Catchprice family business, a crumbling auto dealership in a suburb of Sydney. Offended by such an intrusion into their affairs, the Catchprices entrap Maria in a spiraling series of lies and insanities. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, Carey's first novel written entirely in the United States, comments on Australian national identity and the assimilation of American culture. The novel's protagonist, Tristan, is a citizen of Efica, an imaginary island nation that closely resembles Australia. Efica has been colonized and exploited by Voorstand, a colossal world power that is reminiscent of the United States. At the center of the story is the Eficans's struggle to retain their cultural identity, which the Voorstanders attack through an entertainment spectacle known as the Sirkus. The primary characters of the Sirkus are Bruder Mouse, Oncle Duck, and Hairy Man who closely resemble the popular Walt Disney characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Horribly deformed since birth, Tristan finally finds love and acceptance by donning a Bruder Mouse costume, which hides his physical disfigurations, and becoming part of the Voorstand culture. Carey continues his analysis of postcolonial Australian identity in Jack Maggs, a novel based on Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. In Carey's interpretation, he tells the story from the perspective of the Magwitch character, named Jack Maggs in Carey's text. Maggs is an English ex-convict who, after paying for his crimes, escapes to Australia and becomes a wealthy landowner. He repays an earlier kindness by sending money to a young boy, Henry Phipps, who helped him when he was a convict. Maggs looks upon Phipps as a son and wishes to be reunited with the boy. Risking the punishment of death upon return to England, Maggs finds that Phipps has grown into a self-centered, boring, and lazy man. In the process of his journey, Maggs also becomes involved with a young writer and mesmerist, Tobias Oates, who is a representation of Dickens himself. In reworking Great Expectations, Carey attempts to put forward an uniquely Australian perspective on a classical English text, showing Australia as a land of freedom and fairness, unlike its typical depiction in nineteenth-century literature, which portrayed the country as a rugged wasteland populated entirely by low-class citizens, cattle thieves, and hardened criminals.

One of the most popular figures in Australian history, Ned Kelly, is at the center of Carey's novel True History of the Kelly Gang. Born in 1855 to Irish immigrant parents, Kelly was a notorious gentleman bandit who became a prominent figure in Australian legend and folklore. Although Kelly and his gang murdered three policemen, they have since been immortalized as men who would not bow down to the British imperialistic government that controlled Australia in the nineteenth century. Using both conjecture and legitimate facts, Carey depicts Kelly as a poor and illiterate man who commits crimes only to settle injustices for the downtrodden—a mythical Robin Hood figure for Australia. Carey published his first work of travel writing, 30 Days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account, in 2001, focusing on Australia's capital city. The text recounts Carey's return visit to Sydney during the 2000 Summer Olympic games, giving his personal reflections on the city and its inhabitants. In 2003 Carey released My Life as a Fake, a work of historical fiction regarding an Australian literary hoax, based on a real incident in 1943. The novel follows Sarah Wode-Douglass, a struggling literary editor, as she attempts to discover the truth behind a series of poems written by an author named Bob McCorkle, who may or may not exist.

Critical Reception

Commentators have often described Carey's works as postmodern, noting that his prose and dominant thematic material clearly identifies him as a postcolonial author. Critics have lauded how Carey uses non-linear techniques to attack his reader's sense of narrative coherence, order, time, and sequence. Carey's talent for placing extraordinary events within mundane contexts and use of allegory and symbolism have also drawn extensive praise from scholars, earning him comparisons with such writers as Franz Kafka and Gabriel García Márquez. Reviewers have complimented Carey's interest in themes of nationhood, cultural identity, and colonialism as well, most notably in the novels The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs. However, some have criticized Carey's continuing emphasis on examining Australian themes and issues, particularly because Carey has lived in the United States since 1989. Such critics have faulted Carey for failing to identify himself as an expatriate author and argued that his later works display a flawed and detached understanding of modern Australian culture.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Fat Man in History: Short Stories (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

Bliss [with Ray Lawrence] (screenplay) 1985

Illywhacker (novel) 1985

Oscar and Lucinda (novel) 1988

The Tax Inspector (novel) 1991

Collected Stories (short stories) 1994

A Letter to Our Son (letters) 1994

The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (novel)...

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Norma Jean Richey (review date summer 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Richey, Norma Jean. Review of Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey. World Literature Today 63, no. 3 (summer 1989): 534-35.

[In the following review, Richey examines the symbolic elements in Oscar and Lucinda, praising Carey's characterizations of the dual protagonists.]

Peter Carey has established himself as one of the best contemporary writers of fiction. His last two novels, Bliss and Illywhacker, were finalists for the Booker Prize, and Oscar & Lucinda was an early contender. Carey has both imagination and intelligence, and his writing gets better with every venture, though I am not sure anyone can write a better...

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Andro Linklater (review date 7 September 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Linklater, Andro. “Landscape with Peasants.” Spectator 267, no. 8513 (7 September 1991): 34.

[In the following review, Linklater applauds Carey's descriptive abilities in The Tax Inspector, though notes that the title character is the novel's weakest.]

In the old days, when kindly scientists were still trying to develop ‘smart’ weapons as the humane way to deal out death and destruction, television news once showed a subversive clip of a submarine missile being tested. It was crammed with about $10 millions worth of computers and enough information to navigate itself from the ocean bed through the earth's atmosphere and down the throat of a...

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Victoria Radin (review date 13 September 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Radin, Victoria. “Toxic Waste.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 168 (13 September 1991): 39.

[In the following review, Radin laments that Carey's dark tone in The Tax Inspector is overly gruesome, arguing that Carey is at his best in his lighter, earlier works.]

Peter Carey can normally be relied on for weather-resistant high spirits and brazen acts of generosity. Illywacker is narrated by a con man of 139 years who has grown a pair of magnificent breasts that suckle a babe. Oscar and Lucinda builds a glass cathedral in a river, in which the hero gratefully drowns. Bliss, being the tale of Harry Joy, triumphs over dark parable....

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Peter Carey and John F. Baker (interview date 13 December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Carey, Peter, and John F. Baker. “PW Interviews: Peter Carey.” Publishers Weekly 238, no. 54 (13 December 1991): 37-8.

[In the following interview, Carey discusses the difficulties he encountered in writing The Tax Inspector, the influences that shape the subject matter of the novel, and the different critical receptions of the novel in Australia and the United States.]

Most writers seem to have had a harder time than Peter Carey getting to the top. Perhaps it's partly due to the hunger in his native Australia for new literary voices, but from the time he began to publish in 1974 critical recognition was swift, and was soon followed by...

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Paul Kane (essay date summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kane, Paul. “Postcolonial/Postmodern: Australian Literature and Peter Carey.” World Literature Today 67, no. 3 (summer 1993): 519-22.

[In the following essay, Kane investigates the duality of Carey's body of work and asserts that Carey's novels not only incorporate postcolonial themes but also follow postmodern styles and ideals.]

What space does Australian literature occupy today in world literature? Embedded in that question is a spatial metaphor that could easily be converted into a temporal one: what are the historical vectors that have determined the present moment of Australian literature? Taken together, the two questions open up the ground of a...

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Carolyn Bliss (review date summer 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bliss, Carolyn. Review of Collected Stories, by Peter Carey. World Literature Today 70, no. 3 (summer 1996): 757.

[In the following review, Bliss lauds the selection of short stories in Carey's Collected Stories, particularly complimenting Carey's ability to leave “himself emotionally naked when writing of his own experience.”]

Peter Carey's Collected Stories contains little that is new, but what is new is wonderful, and what is old is wonderful as well. I intend that adjective literally: the stories excite wonder and are full of wonders.

The collection holds virtually all the short stories gathered in the books...

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David Coad (review date summer 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Coad, David. Review of The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, by Peter Carey. World Literature Today 70, no. 3 (summer 1996): 757-58.

[In the following review, Coad notes the postmodern style of The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and comments on Carey's decision to live in the United States as an expatriate writer.]

Peter Carey's fifth novel, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, won the 1994 Age Book of the Year Award in Australia. This is Carey's first novel to be totally written outside his native country, since he has been a resident of New York for over five years now. The title makes us think of the picaresque and the hero's...

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Philip Hensher (review date 20 September 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hensher, Philip. “Great Expectations Disappointed.” Spectator 279, no. 8825 (20 September 1997): 36, 38.

[In the following review, Hensher appreciates the control Carey employs while writing the characters in Jack Maggs but argues that Carey's abrupt prose style clashes with the subtlety of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, the novel on which Jack Maggs is loosely based.]

Jack Maggs is something of a disappointment, but the reader's disappointment is rather a compliment to Peter Carey than anything else. It contains so many excellent things; its constrained and stifling atmosphere is so distinctive that, in the end, it only...

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Peter Carey and Ramona Koval (interview date September-December 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Carey, Peter, and Ramona Koval. “The Unexamined Life.” Meanjin 56, nos. 3-4 (September-December 1997): 667-82.

[In the following interview, Carey discusses the works of Charles Dickens, his inspiration for writing Jack Maggs, and the impact writing has on his life.]

[Koval]: When I read Jack Maggs, I thought, of course he's our hero. Why did we ever think that anybody else in Great Expectations was the main person? Is that why you wrote that book?

[Carey]: Well, it's one reason. I was a bit slow in coming to Dickens for all sorts of reasons, but there's no doubt that what that book encourages you to...

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Anthony J. Hassall (essay date October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hassall, Anthony J. “A Tale of Two Countries: Jack Maggs and Peter Carey's Fiction.” Australian Literary Studies 18, no. 2 (October 1997): 128-35.

[In the following essay, Hassall examines the differences between Jack Maggs's characterization in Jack Maggs with the character of Magwitch in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.]

‘And did you like Dickens at the end of it?’
‘I never did like or dislike him …
All I wanted to do was understand him.’

(Ackroyd 896)

‘You are planning to kill me, I know that …’
‘Not you, Jack, a character who bears your name …’
‘You are just a character to me too,...

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Frank Kermode (review date 16 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kermode, Frank. “Pooka.” London Review of Books 19, no. 20 (16 October 1997): 8.

[In the following review, Kermode praises Carey's tightly controlled plot and imaginative ideas in Jack Maggs.]

According to its dust-jacket, Jack Maggs is ‘by the author of Oscar and Lucinda’. It is in some respects unlike that novel, being shorter, darker and less furiously though still adequately inventive. Its economy may shock some folk, for Peter Carey is known to be an exuberant novelist, copious, various and fantastic. It is possible to admire his books for their lack of respect for boundaries, for the qualities they share with the work of modern Latin...

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Richard Eder (review date 1 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Bleak House.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (1 February 1998): 2.

[In the following review, Eder describes Jack Maggs as a brilliantly written novel, likening Carey's text to a work Charles Dickens might have written if he were not constrained by the social mores of the nineteenth-century.]

A former convict, deported to Australia and prospering there, returns illegally to England in the 1830s to present himself to the young recipient of his mysterious benefactions. It must be Magwitch, of course, Pip's patron in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. It must be, that is, except that it is Maggs, protagonist of Peter Carey's new...

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Brooke Allen (review date 23 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Allen, Brooke. “A Novel as Rich as London.” New Leader 81, no. 3 (23 February 1998): 13-14.

[In the following review, Allen provides a favorable assessment of Jack Maggs and offers insights to the novel's underlying message.]

The question of how much or how little “real life” influences the construction of an author's characters has long been debated by both readers and writers. In Jack Maggs, a historical novel that is partly an homage to Dickens' Great Expectations, the Australian novelist Peter Carey—whose previous books include Oscar and Lucinda—enters the fray by inventing a fateful meeting between a figure very much...

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Karl Miller (review date 20 April 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Miller, Karl. “Late Expectations.” New Republic 218, no. 16 (20 April 1998): 40-1.

[In the following review, Miller contends that Carey's purpose for writing Jack Maggs is to refute the stereotypical portrayal of Australia as a land of criminals and brutes.]

Peter Carey first saw the light in Bacchus Marsh, Australia, in 1943, and went on to write books which are steeped in Bacchus Marsh and its extensive environs. He now lives in New York, having come up from down under like the hero of his new book, which is set in nineteenth-century London. He is an Australian and a cosmopolitan. He has a fine body of work behind him, and in front of him too, we...

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Robert Ross (essay date July 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ross, Robert. “Expectations Lost and Found.” World and I 13, no. 7 (July 1998): 250-58.

[In the following essay, Ross offers a laudatory review of Jack Maggs and analyzes the novel along with Carey's other works in terms of the political, social, and cultural issues Australia faces as a postcolonial nation.]

Although Peter Carey's Jack Maggs owes its origins to Great Expectations, familiarity with Charles Dickens' tale about the convict Magwitch befriended by Pip need not be a prerequisite for appreciating this striking novel. In fact, ignorance of the classic—unlikely for most readers—could even be beneficial. There would be no...

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Christer Larsson (essay date October 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Larsson, Christer. “‘Years Later’: Temporality and Closure in Peter Carey's Novels.” Australian Literary Studies 19, no. 2 (October 1999): 176-85.

[In the following essay, Larsson argues that, despite his label as a postmodern writer, Carey frequently invokes the use of prolepses and foreshadowing in his novels, giving the reader a discernible end to his stories and providing a sense of closure not typically experienced in the postmodern genre.]

Peter Carey's novels are usually treated as works of postmodern fiction. This is obviously appropriate, but it can also be limiting. A. J. Hassall makes an important point when he reminds us that, in spite of...

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D. J. Taylor (review date 8 January 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Taylor, D. J. “A Ventriloquist's Tale.” New Statesman 130, no. 4519 (8 January 2001): 42.

[In the following review, Taylor comments that although Carey's conjectures regarding Ned Kelly's thoughts and actions in True History of the Kelly Gang are enjoyable, they ultimately render the story as a work of historical fiction rather than biography.]

For a work explicitly promoted as a defence of the historical novel, A. S. Byatt's recent On Histories and Stories (Chatto and Windus) is oddly light on references to Peter Carey: just a couple of glancing mentions in among the analyses of Fitzgerald, Fowles, Golding and co. While no one expects...

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Ron Charles (review date 18 January 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Charles, Ron. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in One Man.” Christian Science Monitor 93, no. 37 (18 January 2001): 20.

[In the following review, Charles offers a positive assessment of True History of the Kelly Gang, asserting that Carey's ability to give believable voices to historical figures identifies him as a “genius … of literary ventriloquism.”]

Finally, a true history of the Kelly gang. No doubt, you've long suspected all those other tales about the outlaws who terrorized Australia in the 1870s were infected with English prejudice or Aussie pride. If you want the real scoop, you've got to read Ned Kelly's own words—God's honest...

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Thomas Jones (review date 8 February 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, Thomas. “Full Tilt.” London Review of Books 23, no. 3 (8 February 2001): 24-5.

[In the following review, Jones provides a detailed plot summary of True History of the Kelly Gang and examines Carey's narrative style in the novel.]

In the penultimate chapter of David Copperfield, David and Agnes, after ten years of uneventful but blissful marriage—‘I had advanced in fame and fortune, my domestic joy was perfect’—are sitting by the fire in their house in London, one night in spring, when they receive a visit from an elderly stranger. This man turns out to be Mr Peggotty, who emigrated to Australia with what remained of his family...

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Peter Carey and John Bemrose (interview date 26 March 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Carey, Peter, and John Bemrose. “Dialogue with a Desperado.” Maclean's 114, no. 13 (26 March 2001): 48, 51.

[In the following interview, Carey discusses the importance of Ned Kelly to Australian history, the folklore surrounding Kelly's past, and the events that led up to his writing True History of the Kelly Gang.]

In the boardroom of his Toronto publisher, novelist Peter Carey is wondering out loud where he might pose for a photograph. “We could trash the lobby and do it there,” he jokes, intimating, that as the author of a best-selling novel about the Australian bandit and hell-raiser Ned Kelly, he'd look appropriately roguish sitting among the ruins...

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Robert Ross (review date June 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ross, Robert. “Heroic Underdog Down Under.” World and I 16, no. 6 (June 2001): 251-56.

[In the following review of True History of the Kelly Gang, Ross explores the Australian glorification of the outlaw Ned Kelly, viewing Kelly's adulation as a statement against the imperial power of British colonialism.]

Australian writer Thea Astley once commented that after a dozen or so novels she sometimes thought that she had written the same book over and over. Much the same might be said of Peter Carey, whose new novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, continues his chronicle of Australia's quest for national identity. If he is indeed writing the same...

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Peter Porter (review date 25 August 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Porter, Peter. “A Month in the City.” Spectator 287, no. 9029 (25 August 2001): 35-6.

[In the following review, Porter finds 30 Days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account to be superficial and elitist, commenting that Carey focuses only on the trendier and more upscale areas of the city.]

Love or hate Sydney; love and hate Sydney; love to hate Sydney—most Australians fit into the first two of these categories, while Melbournians are chiefly found in the third. But nobody is indifferent to this great city, one of the most mythologised in the modern world. Before writing about it—even when judging somebody else's view of it—you should declare...

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Andreas Gaile (review date September 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gaile, Andreas. “The True History of the Kelly Gang at Last!” Meanjin 60, no. 3 (September 2001): 214-19.

[In the following review, Gaile argues that, although Ned Kelly is a real figure in Australian history, Carey's personal storytelling and political agendas in True History of the Kelly Gang are glaringly obvious.]

‘Such is life,’ said Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880, before the hangman put the noose around his neck. ‘Such is life,’ wrote Joseph Furphy in his classic Australian novel roughly two decades later, paying homage to Kelly's famous last words. Over the past 120 years, Kelly's life has intrigued more creative writers, artists,...

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Paul Maliszewski (review date summer 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Maliszewski, Paul. Review of 30 Days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account, by Peter Carey. Review of Contemporary Fiction 22, no. 2 (summer 2002): 247-48.

[In the following review, Maliszewski praises the “detail and insight” of Carey's travel writing in 30 Days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account.]

In the summer of 2000, while the world focused its attention on the pockets of Sydney given over to hosting the Olympic games, novelist Peter Carey returned to the city he had left for New York some ten years before. Carey wrote about his month-long experience for Bloomsbury's The Writer and the City series. While this is Carey's first book-length work...

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Cliff Lobe (essay date December 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lobe, Cliff. “Reading the ‘Remembered World’: Carceral Architecture and Cultural Mnemonics in Peter Carey's Illywhacker.Mosaic 35, no. 4 (December 2002): 17-34.

[In the following essay, Lobe examines the postcolonial nature of Australian architecture and cultural memory as portrayed in Illywhacker.]

Things are not universally correct in achitecture and universally incorrect in men.

—Theodor Adorno, “Functionalism Today”

Western architecture has always been close to memory. This proximity can be figured as two interrelated mnemonic modes: a systematizing...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 September 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 17 (1 September 2003): 1086-87.

[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of My Life as a Fake, calling the novel a “Nabokovian masterpiece.”]

The two-time New Zealand Booker winner (True History of the Kelly Gang, 2000, etc.) traces the honeycombed ramifications of a brazen literary hoax (based on a real incident that occurred in 1943 in Australia) [in My Life as a Fake].

Carey's initial narrator is Englishwoman Sarah Wode-Douglass, who edits a struggling magazine, and, more or less impulsively, accompanies renegade...

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Hugo Barnacle (review date 22 September 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Barnacle, Hugo. “Poetic License.” New Statesman 132, no. 4656 (22 September 2003): 52-3.

[In the following review, Barnacle asserts that, despite the novel's unique style, My Life as a Fake is ultimately unsatisfying and overly ambiguous.]

“If I had only stayed in bed, I would not be where I am today, struggling in a web of mystery that I doubt I ever shall untangle.” This is Sarah Wode-Douglass, editor of a London poetry magazine, recalling a trip to Kuala Lumpur in 1972 [in My Life as a Fake]. She was talked into going by a raffish old writer called John Slater, a family friend. The reasons for the trip are unclear, but may have...

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Peter Porter (review date 27 September 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Porter, Peter. “Spooked by a Spoof.” Spectator 293, no. 9138 (27 September 2003): 54, 56.

[In the following review, Porter praises Carey's “inventive” narrative in My Life as a Fake, though notes he is concerned that Carey “is drawn increasingly to archetypal Australian legends.”]

Readers who have heard that Peter Carey's new novel [My Life as a Fake] is a ‘roman à clef’ should be warned that they will need a whole bunch of keys to unlock its mysteries. Carey seems to have decided that one good template deserves another, so that the Ern Malley swindle of 1944 in Melbourne is coupled with a makeover of Mary Shelley's...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Bell, Pearl K. Review of The Tax Inspector, by Peter Carey. Partisan Review 59, no. 2 (spring 1992): 282-85.

Bell provides a mixed assessment of The Tax Inspector, praising Carey's descriptive details but arguing that the story tends to be overly gruesome.

Bradley, James. “Bread and Sirkuses: Empire and Culture in Peter Carey's The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs.Meanjin 56, nos. 3-4 (September-December 1997): 657-65.

Bradley highlights the postcolonial themes in The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs, focusing on the displacement of...

(The entire section is 245 words.)