About The Author
Peter Carey (pictured, right, at Foyles in 2010) was born in Australia in 1943. Abandoning a degree course in science at Monash University, he worked for a series of advertising agencies by day in Melbourne, London and Sydney, writing fiction in the evenings and weekends. His fifth book, but the first to be published, The Fat Man in History, won instant critical acclaim. A host of successful works followed, including the Booker Prize-winning Oscar and Lucinda, and Illywhacker. In 1990 he moved to the US, where he combined teaching and writing, and won the Booker for the second time, with The True History of the Kelly Gang, which also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best overall book. His non fiction includes Wrong About Japan, his account of a trip taken with his son inspired by his son's love of anime and manga.
His new novel is Amnesia, which addresses the issues of online privacy and America's unchallenged interference in the politics of other countries.
Gaby Bailleux's computer virus not only unlocked the doors of Australia's prison but America's too, and they are demanding she be extradited. Felix Moore, a journalist who sees himself as the last bastion of left-wing reporting, is tasked by his friend, property developer Woody Townes, with writing her biography, to help reveal the truth about the covert conflict between Australia and the United States Gaby's apparent declaration of cyberwar dates back to the Battle of Brisbane in 1943, when Australia and American soldiers, supposed allies, fought in the streets and the removal of left-leaning Prime Minister Gough Whitlam from office three decades later. Felix is determined to tell the truth, but what do Woody, Gaby and Gaby's film star mother really want?
In this exclusive interview for Foyles, Peter talks about the willingness of Australian politicians to do America's bidding, why Australians don't like happy endings and what makes fellow Booker-winning Australian Richard Flanagan a truly great novelist.
Questions & Answers
The book draws attention to the CIA-backed removal in 1975 of Gough Whitlam's Labor Party administration, responsible for policies such as the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam and sanctions against apartheid regimes. To what extent do you feel Australia's political agenda is still shaped by American interests?
Prime ministers since Whitlam seem more not less more compliant. This was dramatically true of the first Labour Prime Minister to follow Whitlam. (That is, Bob Hawke who was the powerful leader of the trade union movement at the time of the coup.) The current prime Minister is not only an eager member of the coalition of the willing, but seems firmly aligned with Republicans of the coal-burning American right.
Amnesia is also a very timely commentary on the notion of freedom, with extent of intelligence agencies' access to our personal information provoking much alarm and debate. But do Gaby's hacking achievements, with her virus allowing prisoners to escape in both Australia and the United States, suggest that the only way to combat state surveillance and control is in the online world?
It suggests that parliamentary democracy has been corrupted by special interests, that the voters will not get what they voted for, that a new generation is continually fighting to to see social and environmental justice done. They are as persistent as water which will always find the leak, and thus the the way forward. Sometimes this will be online.
Property magnate Woody Townes is the one who facilitates the biography of hacker Gaby Baillieux. Does he represent a fear that media coverage is increasingly determined by business interests?
You have seen how Australia's former citizen and media baron pursues his business interests inside the United Kingdom. This feels like the Australian way to me, but doubtless that is too narrow a view.
Despite living in New York for more than two decades, being Australian is still very much at the core of your identity and your writing. What do you think it is that most differentiates the two nations?
Too big a question. However, consider the two dramatically different invasions (or 'foundations'). You have the Mayflower on one hand, and the conflict ships on the other. The consequences are still clear today. Then there is the wildly different nature of the land masses: in America one travelled west to wealth and happy endings, in Australia we went west to get lost and die of thirst. We distrust happy endings.
You're one of only three double Booker Prize winners. In a recent interview, you were critical of the decision to expand the its remit, stating: 'There was and there is a real Commonwealth culture. It's different. America doesn't really feel to be a part of that.' Are your concerns about American cultural hegemony fed by your experiences of its dominance of global politics?
Might I finesse my original response? My greatest concern is the dominance of corporations over our elected representatives. I quite understand that Man Booker has its own corporate objectives, that it has clients throughout the United States. that it wishes to strengthen its brand there and to get value for its investment in a literary prize. This is natural for corporation, but I do not believe it serves the best interests of literature. That is, my greatest concern is with the unaccountable corporations who have come to rule us.
Before it was declared the winner of the Man Booker Prize, you spoke very highly of fellow Australian Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Why did you find this such a powerful and affecting novel?
His characters, his sense of place, his fearlessness, his determination to see all sides of an issue, his sentences, his powerful story telling. More personally, because he is telling stories that Australian writers of my generation, forged by the war in Vietnam and therefore or opposition to the reactionary Returned Services League of those years, were incapable of embracing. Richard Flanagan has made our greatest war memorial.
You're among the most acclaimed novelists on the last few decades. Do you feel this gives you a responsibility to document the most pressing issues of our time? And do you feel that the novel still has an important role to play in articulating the human condition?
My novels might be thought of as sites of inquiry. The responsibility I feel is to make a work of art, to produce something that has not existed before. Of course they can be expected to reflect my interests, passions, hopes and fears. While trusting that they are not immoral, I am not at all confident of what social role they play.