Fabulating Beauty: Perspectives on the Fiction of Peter Carey

By Andreas Gaile | Go to book overview

Introduction

1. 'tis thirty years since…

AT THE TIME THIS COLLECTION IS BEING FINALIZED, Peter Carey's first published book, The Fat Man in History (1974), turns thirty. Its author's arrival on the literary scene in the mid1970s coincided with a period of momentous change in Australian culture and, more specifically, in the world of Australian letters. While Australians made their first tentative attempts at extending citizenship to immigrants of nonEuropean background on a considerable scale (institutionalized by the gradual demise of the White Australia Policy), and while the Vietnam War showed the country once again the dire consequences of getting involved in someone else's war, many of Australia's foremost writers followed the example of Patrick White, who was famously “determined to prove that the Australian novel is not necessarily the dreary, dun-coloured offspring of journalistic realism”1 and led the way to a “'new wave'”2 of Australian prose writing. Authors like Michael Wilding, Murray Bail, Peter Carey and Frank Moorhouse at the time seemed to find it increasingly hard to accommodate the experience of their changing environment to the narrative tradition of writers like Lawson, Furphy and Paterson. With their formal experiments and innovations in terms of subject-matter, the then literary avant-garde rebelled against the restrictions of the formulaic bush tales that had predominated in Australian fiction and overshadowed even the innovatory creative achievements of writers like White and Christina Stead. In order to overcome the creative impasse, they started to look abroad – to South America, for example, and the continent's magical realists and fabulists (García Márquez and Borges have been mentioned again

1 Patrick White, “The Prodigal Son” (1958), in The Oxford Book of Australian
Essays
, ed. Imre Salusinszky (Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1997): 127.

2 Craig Munro, quoted in Ken Gelder & Paul Salzman, The New Diversity: Austra-
lian Fiction 1970–88
(Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1989): 15.

-xix-

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