Review of Peter Carey, by Graham Huggan, and Peter Carey, by Bruce Woodcock
Does any internationally regarded Australian writer have a more unsettled reputation than Peter Carey? This is not simply a matter, as Graham Huggan says in his study, Peter Carey, of the author's adeptness 'at showing a clean pair of heels to his critics'. Rather, Carey has never sought to consolidate a general readership which can expect predictable fare from him. The marvellous early stories, those eventually published as The Fat Man in History (1974), were uncompromisingly strenuous. The renown which Carey secured with the more expansive and benign novels that followed: Bliss (1981), Illywhacker (1985) and Oscar and Lucinda (1988) (which won the Booker Prize for Fiction) was compromised by the intransigence of the next two novels: The Tax Inspector (1991) and The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994). The former met a steadily hostile critical reception in Australia. The latter was more often treated with bemusement. In a culture where the finest novels of—say—only twenty years ago are more often than not out of print, no longer taught and scarcely remembered, what is to be said of so determinedly difficult an oeuvre as Carey's?
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