IN THE AFTERWORD to his study of Peter Carey's fiction (1994), Anthony J. Hassall contended that Carey “repeats himself less, and surprises his readers more, than any other Australian writer.”1 The Guardian reviewer Philip Hensher concurred with Hassall, beginning his review of Carey's fifth novel, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), by declaring him “almost alone among contemporary novelists in never writing the same book twice.”2 The three subsequent novels only reinforce this. These are the contours of Carey's reputation: fecundity and daring formal inventiveness that find expression in a refusal to repeat the kinds of fiction that had previously won him acclaim.
Thus Illywhacker (1985), perhaps the finest picaresque novel written in Australia, was succeeded by the fabulous historical saga and Booker Prize winner Oscar and Lucinda (1988). Then followed the less-praised The Tax Inspector (1992). Next was The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), in which Carey created nothing less than a new world-order in which the metropolitan power of Voorstand dominates other ex-colonial countries such as Efica. Carey's long apprenticeship in his craft and the obsessions that rule his imaginative life mean that The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is instinct with echoes of his earliest collected fiction, the book of short stories titled The Fat Man in History (1974).
1Anthony J. Hassall, Dancing on Hot Macadam: Peter Carey's Fiction (St Lucia:
U of Queensland P, 1994): 167.
2Philip Hensher, “Heaven, Hell and Disneyland,” Guardian Weekly (23 October