Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peter Carey

I feel funny writing about Peter Carey.

I've read three of his books.

I didn't like any of them.

Maybe reading about Carey will make me appreciate his work more. Maybe I want to find out what kind of person writes three books that I end up disliking. I guess the bigger question is why did I keep TRYING to read his stuff. I think it was good of me to give him a second chance. But a third one?

Actually, I know why I did it. When my Australia interest first exploded into obsessiveness, I had been really into the whole library thing. I rarely bought any books at the time. So I got as many Australian books as I could from our local library. One of the few authors I could easily get was Carey.

The strange thing is I still want to like his work. There's a part of me that wants to keep trying.

All right. I'm going to start my conversation with Lord Wiki.

Carey was born on 7 May 1943. He's older than I imagined. I pictured him being born in the late 1950's or early 1960's.

He's older than my parents.

Birthday Website time!

Carey is a Taurus in astrology, and an 11 in numerology. I haven't seen an 11 in awhile. I think Therese Rein is an 11. I'm not sure why I remember that.

I don't know if I know anything about being a Taurus. Do I know any Tauruses in real life? I can't think of any offhand. I'll feel bad if I'm forgetting someone important.

Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh in Victoria. I like that name for some reason.

I'm going to look at Google Maps.

Bacchus Marsh is about 50 minutes west of Melbourne.

Mom and Dad Carey ran a General Motors dealership. It was called Carey Motors.

During his early years, Carey went to Bacchus Marsh State School. When he was older he did the boarding school thing at Geelong Grammar School. That school comes up a lot! Who else went there again? John Gorton, right? Who else? I need to go see. Hold on.....

I searched my blog for the answer, but then realized I haven't yet published that post. But by the time you guys read this, the post WILL be published. Isn't this confusing? It's kind of like an episode of Lost.

Anyway, the answer was John Marsden. He went to Geelong Grammar School. I think he taught there though. I don't think he was a student. I could be wrong...which would be sad since I just researched him a few days ago.

Carey went to Monash University and studied chemistry and zoology. Wow. Really? What was he planning to do with that?

It seems he dropped out because of a car accident. Was he the one hurt, or did he hurt someone else?

In the 1960's, Carey worked in advertising. He met writers.

He got married to his first wife in 1964. He'd be about twenty-one then.

Lord Wiki says that 1964 was the year he began writing. In the next four years, he wrote several manuscripts. Some of the manuscripts were accepted and then later rejected. Ouch.

When I lived in New York City, I interviewed for a job as an assistant teacher. The teacher I interviewed with said I had the job. I was happy and relieved. Several hours later I got a call from her. She took back the offer saying her old assistant had decided to return. I wasn't too happy about that.  I felt very rejected. Looking back though, it was probably for the best. I don't think this teacher and I would have worked well together. The problem was I had already been rejected so many times after job interviews. My self-esteem and hope had been sinking. Then finally I got a job....only to have it yanked away again.

In the late 1960's, Carey did a lot of traveling. I wonder if his wife came with him. Were they still together by then?

Okay. Yes. They were; but by 1974 things ended.

Carey wrote short stories while he was working in advertising. He got some of the stories published.

That's probably one of the reasons my writing career didn't zoom off into awesome directions. I'm not good at writing short stories. One of the most common advice thrown at writers is they should get published in small publications. Agents and publishers don't want to work with writers who've never been published. They want writers with a resume. That was hard for me because I've never really liked writing short stories, and I'm not very good at it. I mean I DID write them when I was young, before I started writing novels. But once I started the novels, I preferred doing the long stuff. I did do a few stories for creative writing classes in college. The stories were okay, but nothing spectacular. I'm not sure if I ever tried to get them published.

After Carey got divorced, he moved to Balmain. About two years later he moved to Yandina Queensland. Lord Wiki says he lived in an alternative community. Cool. I'd like to know more about that! Was it some kind of weird cult?

I'm going to look at Google Maps and find Yandina. It's about forty minutes south west of Noosa Heads.

Yandina is known for ginger. Yum. I wonder if people have good digestion there. Apparently, Carey wrote about the town in one of his books. His Illegal Self.

Oh wait. Yandina is part of the Sunshine Coast. Ah! Okay. That's one of the places we had originally planned to do for our 2009 Aussie holiday. Jack and I had been Bindi Irwin fans for awhile. But then we both lost interest and decided to go elsewhere.

Here's a website about the community. It's called Starlight. That SOUNDS like a cult.

They don't sound too controversial though. Our main aims are to be a sustainable residential community, co-operatively managing the land to foster a harmonious neighbourhood, while preserving the native regenerating forest. All lots are self-sufficient running on tank, dam or spring water; solar or generator power; septic or composting waste management.

That sounds pretty awesome. I was kind of hoping for something more controversial. I don't know. Maybe vampires or something. Orgies would be cool too.

Lord Wiki says Carey would write in Yandina; then he'd go to Sydney sometimes to work. I guess he did advertising still. That's cool that his employers gave him that flexibility.

Carey's first published novel was Bliss. That's not one of the ones I've read.

It was published in 1981 and won a Miles Franklin award. It involves advertising, heart attacks, hell, and incest.

The description doesn't really appeal to me.

Carey started his own advertising agency. It was called the McSpedden Carey Advertising Consultants.

In 1981 he moved to Bellingen in New South Wales.

This guy moves a lot.

Bellingen is about thirty minutes south of Coffs Harbour. Is Coffs Harbour the one with the big banana?

Yes! It is. I'm so proud of myself for remembering that piece of trivia.

I wonder if Carey ever took a picture of himself near the banana.

In 1985 he got married to his second wife; a theater director.

In 1990 he sold his share of the advertising agency and moved to NYC.

I already knew that, and I think it might have caused me to be a little prejudice. When I read Carey's books I was crazy in love with Australia. I couldn't understand why an Australian would want to leave Australia. I mean I sort of understood it. I had to. I wanted to leave my own country. But still....I think I looked down at him for this. Did that prejudice me against his books? Maybe. I think though it was more along the lines of this: I didn't like his books which kind of made me feel nervous. If I truly love Australia, shouldn't I love EVERYTHING about it. So I thought to myself that Carey doesn't really count because he abandoned his country.

I'm past those silly thoughts now. I know you can live in a new country and still have ties to your old country.

I'm also past feeling obligated to love everything and everyone Australian. I now know Australians that I strongly dislike. So there.

Carey taught creative writing at New York University. That started around 1991. I tried to get into NYU's screenwriting program in 1995. I was sadly rejected. But if I had gotten in, maybe Carey would have been one of my professors. I don't know how it works there though. Does the film department mix with the writing department?

Carey ended up divorcing his second wife. Apparently he currently has a new girlfriend.

In 1998 he declined to meet the queen. This was met with controversy. People thought he was sticking his nose up at Royalty. Carey claims he just had family/personal obligations.

Lord Wiki has a list of all his awards. The guy has won plenty. I feel like a bit of a failure for not loving his work. I know I shouldn't. We all have our different opinions. I once tried reading all the Newberry Award Winners. I soon quit because I didn't like most of the books.

Lord Wiki has a list of Carey's work. I'm going to explore that; see if there's anything that might appeal to me.

There's Illywhacker. It involves a conman. Lord Wiki says the book is considered magic realism. I don't really understand what magic realism is and I don't really understand Lord Wiki's explanation.
This website has a better explanation and a list of books that would qualify as magic realism. I guess basically it's elements of fantasy in a realistic setting. Would Twilight count then? I'm wondering if the novel I last worked on would qualify. It mixed realism with fantasy. I think that was one of it's problems though. My sister read it and liked it....until she got to the weird dreams part. Then other people read it and criticized me for taking too long to get to the fantasy part.

Oscar and Lucinda came out in 1988. It involves a priest, a glass factory, and gambling. That just doesn't sound that exciting to me. I think people have recommended that book to me though. Maybe it's good. Maybe I should try it. Or maybe I shouldn't.

There's The Tax Inspector. It involves a car dealership. I guess Carey was able to pull information from his own childhood.

Here's a book I read. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith. This novel had elements that DO intrigue me: circuses and disfigurement. I had hopes for that book. It was the third and the last I read. I didn't like it. In fact, I think I quit reading the book before I finished. And it's pretty rare for me to do that.

Jack Maggs is a reworking of Dicken's Great Expectations. I'm not a big Dicken's fan so I probably wouldn't like that.

The interesting thing though is when I was rejected from NYU, I think the person who rejected me suggested I read more Dickens. They probably didn't like my work because it wasn't Dickens enough. Since I don't like Dickens, maybe that says NYU wasn't the right place for me. It all kind of works out.

If Carey is writing books that are homages to Dickens, I could probably assume he's a fan. If I don't like Dickens, it's probably reasonable to assume I don't like Carey either.

I read The True History of the Kelly Gang. I didn't like it. But I'm really not a fan of fictional stories of real people. The mixture of fiction and nonfiction bothers me. I don't mind historical figures popping up in novels. But I don't want to read a whole novel centered on a real person.

Okay. I have actually found a book with a premise that sounds interesting to me. My Life as a Fake. It involves poetry and a hoax. It also involves questions of reality. I love all that.

One of my favorite books is Sophie's World. Have any of you read that?

Do fictional characters exist at all?

Is Harry Potter not somewhat real? How about Santa Claus?

Can we make someone real by just believing in them?

What about cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder? How do we decide which personality is the REAL one?

I like thinking about these things. I might actually like that book.

I'm also interested in the psychology behind hoaxes. People in the blogging world were recently the victim of one. I felt for these people because I've been the victim of a hoax before. It was a very painful experience. I don't want to go into personal details. I'll just say the night I found out I had been fooled was one of the worst nights of my life. I not only felt a great sense of loss; but I also felt so much shame for having been so gullible. The experience greatly effected my life.

A) It made me very skeptical. Although I believe in things, I almost always question them. I can never have full faith in anything.
B) I don't trust anyone 100%
C) I'm very uptight about dishonesty....probably more so than the usual person.

I guess those traits aren't too bad. Maybe in the long run it's good the hoax happened to me. See? Like I've said before....there's no use regretting anything. What doesn't kill us just makes us stronger.

And I have nothing against fiction. I love it. I just don't like being fooled into thinking fiction is real.

I also don't mind lying as a joke. I do it a lot. I guess it's kind of like sarcasm. No, not really sarcasm. How do I explain this? It's like telling a lie, but you and the person you're lying to KNOWS you're joking. And if they don't know they're joking, you very soon tell them you're joking.

Tim and I do it to Jack very often. For example, he might ask what's for dinner. We might say something like Monkey Brains. We all know it's a joke. We all laugh. Ha ha.

It's kind of just being absurd.

Speaking of Jack....

He DOES make up stories and passes them off as nonfiction. For some reason, that doesn't bother me. I guess maybe because he's young and innocent. I know for him it's not about covering up information or trying to impress someone. He's just being imaginative. The rule is though he has to be honest if I ask him whether it's a true story. He's pretty good at this. The funny thing is sometimes I'll humor him and pretend I think the story's real. He'll start to look concerned and make sure I understand it's NOT true. He actually doesn't do it as much as he used to though. I mean he still tells stories, but he less often presents them as factual history.

The first books I read of Carey's was Theft: A Love Story. I didn't hate it. In fact, I think out of the three books I read of his, I found this one to be the most tolerable. I didn't love it though. For the most part, I found it to be boring.

He has some nonfiction books. There's one called 30 Days in Sydney. I don't think I'd like it. Lord Wiki says he suspects some of the book is fictional. See, I just don't like stuff like that. I love fiction. I love nonfiction. I don't like when the two are blurred together too much.

I hate it when I see a movie that's based on a true story and then find out the best scenes were fictionalized. I think I'm okay with movies and books that are INSPIRED by a true story. The Exorcist is like that. It was inspired by the alleged possession of a child in St. Louis. I'm fine with that. Wes Craven got his idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street when he read stories in the newspaper about Asian teenagers having nightmares and then dying. The stories inspired him. And I think that's fine. That's how fiction-writing often works. I would not be fine with him trying to pass off the movies as being true stories.

Maybe I'm weird.

Maybe I'm too picky.

To Carey's credit, the Sydney book even admits to not being all true. The tagline is A wildly distorted account. Even with that though it bothers me because I won't know what is true and what's not.

I AM okay with writers fictionalizing true stories. I guess that would be autobiographical novels? By this I mean the author writes a novel. Then later you find out the novel was based on things the author really experienced. I think all novels have a little bit of autobiography in them though. That's kind of a given.

Wait. I missed a fiction book. Carey's most recent novel is His Illegal Self. This book deals with motherhood, hippy communes, the Australian Outback, and kidnapping. Wow. I think that sounds like a story I can like. I think I'll actually give that one a try. If I don't like it, I'm giving up for good.

All right. I'm done with Lord Wiki. Now I'll move onto the official Peter Carey Website.

This description of His Illegal Self says the setting of the book is tropical Queensland. Was the description on wrong? Oh well. I like tropical Queensland too.

One of his nonfiction books is about Carey's visit to Japan with his son. I know of people who are really into Japanese culture. I wonder if they've heard of Carey's book. Sadly, one of the people died a few years ago. He was REALLY into Japan though. I guess kind of like how I'm really interested in Australia. He loved Japanese Anime; both books and the videos. He learned how to speak and write fluently in Japan. It was incredibly impressive. His big dream was to visit Japan. Unfortunately, his health prevented him from doing so.

There's a biography on the website. I'll see if there's anything that Lord Wiki left out or got wrong.

Carey went to Monash University for one year.

He had four novels rejected and then his short story collection was accepted and published. This was The Fat Man in History.

Currently, Carey works at Hunter College in NYC. Well, I can't find him in their faculty search, so maybe he doesn't work there anymore.

Oh no...wait. He's still there.

I can't find an Enough Rope interview with Carey, but I did find this interview on Powells.

They say Carey is Australia's most celebrated living writer. Well, that's fine. I guess I'm just not part of the celebration.

Jack Maggs isn't just a Dicken's thing. It's also about Australia's convict history. Okay. Maybe I COULD like it. There's a chance.

Carey talks about the tall poppy syndrome. He says, if you have a field of poppies and one poppy gets taller than the rest, the head gets chopped off. And that's how we generally celebrate success in Australia. You know, it's fine for a minute and then — boom.

Carey goes on to say, This culture is totally a success culture. It's not like people here aren't jealous or envious, or don't do that sort of thing. But Australians really believe in failure. Everything we celebrate has to do with failure. And everything here — in popular culture, not in literary culture — has to do with success. We're really distrustful of success. I assume he means America when he says this culture.

Well, there you go. That's probably why I prefer Australia to America. I'm REALLY good at failing. Rejection is like my middle name. Isn't rejection a type of failure?

I'm rarely successful.

Carey is for Australia becoming a republic. He says I mean, if you want to accept my position that we were really shaped by the convict experience, then you have to look at the relationship between the convict and the parent — and that's essentially an abusive

I probably have to agree with Carey. I love the British. Jude Law and Hugh Grant are adorable. But the British did some bad things. The negative aspects of Australia history come mostly from the British; the whole convict thing and the invasion thing. I personally feel that somehow letting go of the British ties is an important step in the whole white/black reconciliation.

Carey sees that there are weird things about America. He says we're too concerned with individual liberty. We care more about our freedom then what's best for us all.

He says, I am amazed that there are traffic lights in the United States, because it fucks up someone's right to go through an intersection. People argue about the seatbelt thing as an infringement of their individual liberty. These are things that to me are just totally bizarre.

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole individual liberty thing. I'm definitely against it when it is an obvious danger to other people. I'm all for limiting smoking in public places. Yes, smokers might feel infringed upon, but when they smoke near me, I feel my right to breath clean air is violated. I'm against drunk driving and people who use cell phones/mobiles while driving.

When it comes to doing stuff that usually hurts only the individual....I don't know. It bothers me when I see people riding bikes without helmets. Should there be a law requiring them? I don't know. Then where do we draw the line? Do we arrest people for getting too drunk in their own home? Do we arrest people for eating too much fast food? Should I have been arrested for having an eating disorder? Should I get in trouble for not going to the dentist every six months? If we decide there should be laws regarding personal health and safety, who makes up the laws?

And how much really does Australia differ from America in this regard? Do Australians have less freedom then Americans? Do they have less personal liberty? From my limited knowledge, I'd say no. But I could be wrong.

Carey is very positive about New York. He says, There's a sense they have of themselves as part of a community. Mean-while tabloid presses of the world always like to tell stories of New Yorkers as sort of human animals, which always goes back to some story, which wasn't even right back then, in the fifties or sixties, where someone was attacked and cried and cried for help, and no one came out.

Oh THAT story again. New Yorkers get so much grief about that; as if it happens everyday. And does it not happen other places?

It is scary that people are ignored like that though. It happened again New York.

But I don't think it's a New York problem. I think it's a humanity problem.

We too often ignore other people's distress. We're too scared to get involved. We're too busy to get involved. We don't take their pleas seriously.

The good thing is there are people out there who do respond to those who call out for help. I guess we just have to hope that those people are around when we need them.

Carey shares a positive story. But my sense of New Yorkers is like the woman who gets on the subway and is going to have a baby and can't get to the hospital. And she's on the subway platform — west fourth street — and they're all around her and she can't even breathe. And when the baby comes, they all applaud.

So see.... There IS hope.

Carey talks about an American student who complained about characters in Patrick White's work. He said the characters were all losers.

Carey says, And I said, "In our culture, we don't call them losers. We call them battlers." A battler is someone who struggles forever and will never, ever, really get anywhere. And in Australia that's a really honorable position.

I like that.

I don't think there's anything wrong with success. I don't really go for the whole tall poppy syndrome. I think people should be able to enjoy their success without being shot down...well, unless they keep bragging about it.

My problem with American culture is success is determined by our financial wealth and our acceptance into certain circles.

I'm a failure as a fiction writer because I haven't made a profit from my work, and my writing wasn't accepted by a publisher. But is it not a success to have written the books in the first place?

I think success should be more about the work and the journey...not about the eventual outcome.

To me though , there's a difference between a loser and a battler. A loser is a lazy good-for-nothing person who never tries. They don't make an effort. A battler is someone who tries and tries, but never quite makes it.

I'm looking at Google News now.

Carey has switched publishers. Penguin lured him away from Random House.

Someone is writing an opera based on Carey's Bliss. Interesting.....

Carey has a new book coming out in November called Parrot and Olivier in America. It doesn't sound that interesting to me personally, but I'm sure other people out there will like it.

I'm going to go check out Twitter; see what people are saying about Carey.

Nagaijin says, Going to bed, to read week-old British papers and Peter Carey's _Theft_.

I wonder which one he'll read first....the book or the newspaper. And will he ever find time to sleep?

kirstenalex says,
Dinner with lovely Penguin mates last night; and they tell me new Peter Carey book will be a corker - back on Illywacker form w excellent ms

I don't fully understand what she's saying here. What is corker? I gotta go look it up.

This website (with it's somewhat controversial name) says it means something excellent. See? I told you other people out there would appreciate Carey's writing.

Well, I'm going to say good-bye now. There is so much more I could read and say, but I'm not going to.


  1. I persevered with Illywhacker but I did not like it. I don't like that style of writing.

  2. Andrew,

    Yeah, I don't really like his style of writing either.

  3. I haven't read Carey - but I recently drove through Bacchus Marsh and found it adorable and quaint. Although, Mr. Slurpee - was all "IT'S SO BOGAN"...Whatever!

  4. I really liked Bliss and The Tax Inspector. Couldn't get into Oscar and Lucinda at all

  5. Deirdre: I'm going to side with you over Mr. Slurpee...even though I've never been there personally

    Nursemyra: Well, at least you could get into some of the books. I feel like I've failed with Carey. Maybe I just have to mature a little. I should try reading his stuff in 10-20 years.

  6. I really don't enjoy reading thought a lot of people are saying that this author is great. I still prefer watching movies like story that was based from the book rather than reading it directly from the book.

  7. Cairns Hotel,

    Hi hotel person.

    I usually prefer reading the book, but there are some rare occasions where I feel the movie was better than the book it was based on.