Peter Carey in Australia
AS AN ARTIST Peter Carey has qualities in common with the protagonists of his fiction. He is a dare-devil, a dealer, an investigator, a spin-doctor, a phantom, an opportunist – a literary Houdini. Like two of his best creations – Harry Joy in Bliss and Herbert Badgery in Illywhacker – he is a prodigious storyteller and an insouciant borrower, embellishing his tales into fantastic designs. “I didn't know that places like this even existed on the earth,” says a visitor to the emblematic architect's house in The Tax Inspector.1 Many visitors to Carey's fictions have had a similar response. The dreams of genius are idiosyncratic, as difficult to achieve as they are breathtaking in conception. That is the author's energizing risk as he writes back to Charles Dickens's Great Expectations in Jack Maggs or tells the True History of the Kelly Gang in Ned Kelly's own voice. Failure is factored into the wager excitingly as the underdog fiction-maker uses every trick of his trade to deliver himself from the task he has set. Carey re-treads and re-fits, like the used-car-dealing Catchprice family in The Tax Inspector. He shuffles the pack like Oscar and Lucinda. He aggregates the bricks of story – jokes, yarns, memories – in a stop–start rhythm that gives a sense of randomness to the way things build up or fall out. People and events combine and recombine like the tumble of a poker machine. Sometimes the pattern can feel deterministic, with elements colliding to maximum effect in well-timed farce. Harry Joy in Bliss literally 'falls out' of the tree from which he is spying, bringing
1 Peter Carey, The Tax Inspector (St Lucia: U of Queensland P, 1991): 204. Further
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