Harry Joy’s Children: The Art of Story Telling in Peter Carey’s ‘Bliss’

Peter Carey began his literary career as a short story writer, and his first novel Bliss (1981) is certainly more of a continuation with than a breakaway from this genre; the title itself connects the novel with Katherine Mansfield's short story 'Bliss' (1920) and, like Bertha Young, Harry Joy believes his life is 'blissful', only to realise he is in 'Hell'. In Mansfield's story the title is ironical, but only partly so in Carey's novel, for Harry Joy will reach a true 'bliss' at the end; however, both are 'about modes of perception, about how people live within their own cosy fictions, which often bear no relationship to the way things are' (Dovey 202). In this sense, Carey's Bliss can be considered a collection of narratives; it can be analysed as a great 'container' of 'one hundred stories', and many intertextual references, for example to Shakespeare and Marquez, enhance this meta-narrative quality. Bliss not only succeeds in building up a story made of different stories, but also proves the fiction to be a form ideally suited to convey the mutability and fragility of reality (Shaw 17). This instability is obvious both in Carey's collections and in Bliss, where the apparently 'permanent frame' of the novel is replaced by the 'splintering frame' (Shaw 227), by a series of narratives that give voice to different modes of perceiving (Fletcher 14). All the main characters in Bliss create a fictive world of their own which often bears no relationship to 'reality'. Carey creates a pastiche where his authorial narrator (Stanzel 4-5) is deeply involved in showing how the characters of 'his' story take over his power and become narrators of 'other' stories - their stories - in their own turn (Splendore 55-88).

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Not a member? Subscribe now from only $24/year

Published 1 May 1994 in Volume 16 No. 3. Subjects: Characterisation, Narrative techniques, Reality.

Cite as: Riem Natale, Antonella. ‘Harry Joy’s Children: The Art of Story Telling in Peter Carey’s ‘Bliss’.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, 1994. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.248f6008b1.