Sunday, January 10, 2010

Peter Carey is obsessed with illegality. True History of the Kelly Gang is about the Robin Hood-like figure of Ned Kelly. You know how when you know so little about something, the first things you read assume a kind of monumental importance: they become 100% of what you know about that thing, and every subsequent piece of information has to be located in relation to what you got out of that First Source. At the time I read True History, I knew almost nothing about Australia (my keywords would have been James Cook, aboriginals, Ayers Rock, Mabo v Queensland, Kylie, Neighbours...that's it. I probably wouldn't have reached 10). I had no idea why Aussie-English rivalry was so fierce (I put it down to Freud's narcissism of minor difference). For a while, everything I knew about Australia came from this one novel. Then Oscar and Lucinda, which is about two gamblers (read in Bangalore because I thought it would be nice to read something about a place that was very far away, till I almost fell off my chair when one character was described as having a gait appropriate to someone carrying piles of books on Merton Street), Theft, which is about, well, the theft of a painting. And now The Tax Inspector, which is probably the strangest of his books that I've read so far, featuring tax evasion and child abuse and general slow-burning apocalypse. I try to resist reading everything I pick up as some form of national allegory (postcolonial writers are assumed to be able to do nothing else - never the universal, only the story of their locale - cf Jameson, Ahmad) but with Carey, it's almost as if he wants you to do this. Illegality, transgression of the law - being constitutive of Australia itself - suffuses all of his books. I haven't yet read My Life as a Fake and His Illegal Self, but their very titles seem to reinforce my feeling about this.

"a gait appropriate to someone carrying piles of books on Merton Street" ... I almost fell off my chair at the New Yorker offices when reading this!!!
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