‘Years Later’ : Temporality and Closure in Peter Carey’s Novels

Peter Carey's novels are usually treated as works of postmodem fiction. This is obviously appropriate, but it can also be limiting. A.J. Hassall makes an important point when he reminds us that, in spite of playing postmodem games with the reader, Carey has a 'classic, unfashionable concern with morality' (Hassall 72). In order to do justice to the richness and beauty of Carey's novels, it is necessary to remind ourselves of these unfashionable aspects of the works. Indeed, Carey does play games with his readers, but he is also skilled in more traditional methods of storytelling, and this blend of innovation and tradition makes his novels extremely complex and intriguing. In line with the treatment of his novels as postmodem is the insistence on the open-endedness of the texts. While this is justified to some extent, it is also necessary, if we want to do justice to the complexity of the novels, to recognise that revelation and closure are significant aspects of Carey's texts. In this article, I will attempt to balance the account of Carey's novels, challenging the idea of the texts as open-ended by reading them as essentially closed. The focus will be on Carey's use of prolepses. His employment of prolepses demands comment, not only since it is so frequent and skilful, but also because investigating the consequences of his use of this device is informative when we look at the way time operates in his novels. A prolepsis is defined by Genette as 'any narrative manoeuvre that consists of narrating or evoking in advance an event that will take place later' (Genette 40). In other words, it is a representation of a future event as if it has already taken place. A prolepsis effects a link between two points in a text with the purpose of manipulating the reader's understanding of the narrative. Although many critics have noted Carey's 'unabashed use of prolepses' (Dovey 200), there has been very little discussion about its effects. I will argue that the many prolepses indicate a perception oftime as closed and an awareness of the revelatory potential of narrative: the capacity of the end to rewrite what has led up to it.

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Published 1 October 1999 in Volume 19 No. 2. Subjects: Anticipation, Literary criticism, Narrative structure, Narrative techniques, Plot, Writer's craft.

Cite as: Larsson, Christer. ‘‘Years Later’ : Temporality and Closure in Peter Carey’s Novels.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.a2ba8becb7.