Magazine article The Spectator

'Amnesia', by Peter Carey - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Amnesia', by Peter Carey - Review

Article excerpt

Amnesia Peter Carey

Faber & Faber, pp.378, £18.99, ISBN: 9780571311187

Something odd happened between the advance publicity for this book and its printed appearance. Trailed as addressing the troubled history of Australia's relationship with the USA, it is actually about the troubled relationships between a cat's cradle of everyday radical folk and set almost entirely in the suburbs of Melbourne.

A washed-up old left-wing journalist, Felix Moore (keep an eye on the names), is employed to write an account of how and why Gabrielle Baillieux, a rebellious young computer hacker-cum-ecowarrior, devised and hatched a virus -- or 'worm' -- to open all the prison cells in the United States and Australia. She has been arrested and bailed and gone on the run.

Gaby is supposed to help Felix by making herself available. Instead, he is given boxes of tapes made by Gaby and her mother Celine (with whom Felix had been in love when they were students), describing the events of Gaby's childhood and adolescence during the 1980s. From these tapes the journalist fashions a story. A novel really, because he obviously makes the details up. Either that or both women have an astonishing memory for dialogue.

Peter Carey is a big literary beast, and observers have watched his clever eye turning towards the United States as the source for his stories. However, despite a scandalously misleading blurb that promises some kind of international techno-web-thriller, this is another novel which will best be enjoyed by an Australian readership. It is full of references to Australian history, but such is Carey's genius for invented worlds that one cannot be sure whether they are real or not. I did look up 'Jim Cairns', who really did exist, and is a Michael Foot-like hero for the Australian left.

While the first page of Amnesia is worthy of a Lee Child story, the thrills that follow have more to do with grubby lies and deceptions rendered with literary craft than with the knightly heroics of a Jack Reacher.

Most of the book, far from being about amnesia, consists of remembering. There is one chapter describing rather drily the details of what Felix, and apparently Carey too, reckons was a CIA-engineered coup to depose the late Gough Whitlam in 1975. Felix thinks Gaby's worm, released in 2010, was an act of vengeance (of which he approves). We never find out the true motive. But it doesn't matter, because this is background noise to the foreground dramas enacted between Gaby and her mother, her mother and her father, her mother and Felix, Felix and dodgy property tycoon Woody Townes, and, easily most interestingly, Gaby and her on/off boyfriend Frederic, genius geek. …

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