elegant as civilisation itself. ( OscarandLucinda , 490)
A T first sight a book beginning with the life of a boy brought up among the Plymouth Brethren in the middle of the nineteenth century might sound unpromising as a good read. Yet that book has proved to be Carey’s most popular novel so far. Published first in Australia, perhaps to remedy the charge of cultural imperialism suffered by Illywhacker , 1 it won its author the prestigious Booker Prize in 1988, along with three belated Australian prizes the
Peter Carey's fictions explore the experiences lurking in the cracks of normality, and are inhabited by hybrid characters living in between spaces or on the margins. Carey took a circuitous route into literature and writing. Characterising Carey's stories takes us to the heart of his fictional practice. Most adopt a mixture of narrative modes, a central feature of his writing. In Carey stories, terminal societies trap characters in drive-in movie car parks, or offer the bizarre possibility of exchanging bodies, or generate a counter-revolutionary resistance movement led by fat men. Grouping the stories around themes and issues allows for a fairly comprehensive insight into Carey's shorter works, and provides some key threads for later discussions of the longer fiction. Four of the most significant areas are: American imperialism and culture; capitalism; power and authority; and gender. In Bliss, the hippy capitalists of 'War Crimes' are replaced by the more conventional scenario of hippies versus capitalists. Illywhacker examines twentieth-century Australian history with the savage humour and fantasy of the earlier fiction now placed within an epic framework. Oscar and Lucinda might be termed 'retro-speculative' fiction. The Tax Inspector is Carey's most savage novel to date, and it captures Marx's vision of the ravening effects of capital. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith marks a return to the overt alternative world-building found in the early stories with their fantastic and fable-like scenarios. The overlap between post-modernism and post-colonialism in Carey has been investigated by a number of critics.
Why does it have to teach you? … Why can’t you just enjoy it? ( The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith , 168)
T HE Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is undoubtedly the strangest of Carey’s novels. It marks a return to the overt alternative world-building found in the early stories with their fantastic and fable-like scenarios, and implicit in works like OscarandLucinda . It might be characterised as a cross between the dystopian science fiction of novels like The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed by
Edwards has argued against the ‘totalising rhetoric’ of Daniel’s critical template. 12 Edwards’s Derridean-influenced article usefully sets Carey’s text off against Murray Bail’s post-modern play in Homesickness (1980) and Holden’s Performance (1988) and examines Carey’s post-modern exploration of construction and bricolage particularly through a focus on language and writing. Margaret Harris has made interesting intertexual analogies with George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss 13 to demonstrate the post-modern qualities of OscarandLucinda , while Wenche
linked him with new writers like Martin Amis ( The Rachel Papers , 1974; Dead Babies 1975), Ian McEwan ( First Love, Last Rites , 1976), and later Iain Banks ( The Wasp Factory , 1984). OscarandLucinda is clearly analogous to works such as John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) with its playful narrator figure, its alternative endings and its pastiche deployment of conventions from the Victorian novel. Pastiche, along with other metafictional strategies, has been seen as one element in the wider phenomenon of post-modernism. 72 Given the political
since ‘I couldn’t have loved a man who was doing that to my children’ (246). This scenario unveils the problematic contradictions of the love, support and nurturing of patriarchal attitudes, behaviour and power within the family.
Mort’s painful defence of his father’s character speaks volumes in this respect, and takes Carey’s exploration of the father-son theme from Bliss and OscarandLucinda much further. Mort cannot accept the idea that his mother did not love his father and defends his father as ‘a good man’ who ‘[w]hatever he was
project was a minor salve to local unemployment. Although there are no
similar details available, an interesting comparison might be with the
smaller-budget OscarandLucinda (Gillian Armstrong, 1997) filmed
in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia (Martin, 2001 ). The thirteen-week shoot generated an estimated AUS$0.75m for
the local economy. If the rate of job creation was in line with The
Last Samurai as reported above, then
colonialism are central to OscarandLucinda and The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith .
The bleak pessimism of these stories also relates to others grouped around Carey’s exposé of capitalism and embodied most powerfully in ‘War Crimes’. This investigates the links between capitalism and the violent exploitation of power suggested in the title. In an interview before the book War Crimes came out, Carey acknowledged his work in advertising might be fostering myths of affluence ‘in ways that are against the best interests of society’, his own ‘war
in South America. In doing so, it suggests how the hidden effects of handed-down scripts and stories on a character’s destiny might embody this peculiarly post-modern aspect of organic physics. Within the apparently contingent and random nature of life, chaos theory argues that there is nevertheless pattern, but the pattern is to be found in natural irregularity rather than regularity, disorder rather than order. Carey explores this further in OscarandLucinda , as he does the experience of father-son relationships.
was beaten by Peter Carey’s OscarandLucinda.
3 For more on this discussion see David Taylor (198–9), Barbara Korte’s English
Travel Writing: From Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Explorations (144–6), chapter
one of Marie Williams’ dissertation ‘A Dystopian Modernity: Bruce
Chatwin and the Subject in the Modern World’, Manfred Pfister’s
‘Bruce Chatwin and the Postmodernization of the Travelogue’, and Tim
Youngs’ ‘Punctu-ating Travel: Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin’.
Tourists with Typewriters by Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan also
touches on the issue of genre; see