The Art of Building in Peter Carey's Illywhacker
The Engineer and the Bricoleur
He built like a jazz musician. He restated and reworked the melody of
the old emporium. The creaking galleries were gone now, but you saw
them still, in your imagination. He built like a liar, like a spider – steel
ladders and walkways, catwalks, cages in mid-air, in racks on walls,
tumbling like waterfalls, in a gallery spanning empty spaces like a
stainless Bridge of Sighs.1
EDUCATED BY HERBERT BADGERY in the “trickery and deception” (547) of a city, Hissao the builder adds dissimulation and parody to his inheritance of the 'Australian' skill in improvisation. When Illywhacker ends with the reconstruction in Sydney, “city of illusions” (597), of “the best pet shop in the world,” financed by Japanese money, designed by Hissao, and exhibiting its Australians (shearers, lifesavers, inventors, manufacturers, bushmen, Aboriginals, artists, and writers) in cages, it re-focuses a leading metaphor in Carey's text. Combining the idea of Australians on display with the idea of building, and text, as products of 'bricolage',2 this novel
1 Peter Carey, Illywhacker (St Lucia: U of Queensland P, 1985): 597. Further page
references are in the main text. The image is self-reflexive of the text's characteristic
artifice, its negotiations between the notionally empirical and the imaginary, between
historical-cultural details and the play of language and imagination upon them.
2 Cf Roland Barthes' definition of texts as the products of 'bricolage'; Barthes, S/Z,
tr. Richard Miller (1970; New York: Hill & Wang, 1975): 4–14.