I have just finished Peter Carey’s latest book Amnesia, which is significant because it was not a book I could read quickly. It’s not a page-turner, but it is compelling. Why so? Well, firstly I think Peter tackles an era in Australia’s history that was alarming at the time. A time when beloved Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was overthrown; the time that one of the key characters, Gaby, was born. Gaby is the product of an interesting (and unsuccessful) union of an ambitious Labour politician and an equally ambitious and successful actress. That they stay together as long as they do seems amazing luck to me.
That Gaby (and her mother) eschews the suburban Coberg life their Labour man wants is not surprising. Gaby is a teenage rebel, and her tool is computer hacking. When we meet Gaby she is in trouble. Big trouble. She has been accused of orchestrating a widespread computer hack that has sent many corporations (many US-based) into chaos. Her mother, ever-believing her daughter incapable of such an act, enlists Felix a slightly dishonoured journalist, and old university beau, to tell her story to the world. A large part of this story is revealed through the tapes that Gaby and Celine record for him. As a result, the narrator alternates between Felix, and the two women. When their story is revealed it is through a direct first person narrative. And I think that is the reason why it took so long to read this. As a reader, you needed to absorb and consider their voices. And the information revealed through those tapes.
This is a topical book. And I wonder just how Carey knew this would be the case? We have everything from dioxin poisoning to hacking, and above all, the Americanisation of Australia. The power of state is never far from the reader’s mind and activism is an obvious choice for these protagonists.
Peter Carey’s great prose is matched by his fanatical research and attention to detail. A modern story of recent political history and lessons not learned.