As I sip my delicious chai and enjoy a slice of Date Bread, it’s a bright, chilly morning, but it’s not as cold as it has been this past week. I know people are getting a bit tired of the cold and snow, but days like this help somewhat, when you go outside and find that it’s just a bit warmer than it was, and you feel a sense of relief. At least that’s my experience.
I’ve been reading a book that I plan to review soon, but have not quite finished yet – I hope to do so this afternoon. It is Peter Carey’s newest book, Amnesia. I was so excited to get this book that I had really high expectations, and it started out great, but by the halfway point it began to go downhill and it’s headed in that direction steadily ever since. I’m hoping the ending will offer some redemption for this novel by two-time Book Prize-winning Australian author Carey. This book begins with a computer virus, the Angel Worm, being released and hacking into the Australian prison system’s computers. This worm also inadvertently hacked into the American prison system’s computers, but whether this was intentional or not is left to be determined. The American government thinks that the hacker, Gabrielle “Gaby” Baillieux, knew that this would happen and wants to extradite her to the U.S. and put her on trial there, where, if found guilty, she may face the death penalty. Gaby’s mother, Celine, and wealthy businessman Woody Townes, enlist disgraced left-wing journalist Felix Moore to write Gaby’s story and make her so “Australian” that the book will save her from extradition. Moore, known as Felix “Moore-or less correct”, has recently been found guilty of slander and has been left shamed, unemployable, and banished from his home, his wife and his two daughters. He has no choice but to take on this project, as much as his gut tells him not to do it; he desperately needs the money. Felix, Celine and Woody are old friends from their university days, when Celine was a left-wing activist and struggling actress and Felix pined for her for years. Promised exclusive access to the subject, Felix is ultimately left to write Gaby’s biography and possibly save her life by cobbling together her story from two bags full of cassette tapes and mini-cassettes featuring the ramblings of Celine and Gaby while “imprisoned” himself in a hut or cottage far from the real world and the company of others. All of this is seen through the lens of Felix’s obsession with the history of Australia’s relationship with the U.S. spanning over 40 years, particularly the coup of 1975, during which the CIA was suspected of playing a role in the unseating of the Australian Labour prime minister Gough Whitlam as a payback for his withdrawal from Vietnam. While the novel starts out promising an investigation into this role, or the political motivations of the hacker, or even the results of the computer systems’ corruption, we get none of these things. Instead, the reader is subjected to the ramblings of Celine about her faltering, unhappy marriage to political leader Sando and her sense of failure as a mother, particularly when Gaby is arrested but then let off without charges being laid. Page after page of seemingly-unedited, directionless blathering is what I am experiencing right now, with less than 100 pages to go, so I’m hoping it will pick up as I near the end. Shame on me for criticizing this talented author, but it’s almost as if he doesn’t know what story he wants to tell, so he’s made notes on a few different stories and threw them all together into one book. This novel lacks focus, and it just now occurs to me that I have the same feeling about this book as I did about Ann Marie MacDonald’s novel, Adult Onset. So I can’t say I would recommend this novel, although it may all come together in the end. It started out to be such an intriguing, darkly funny, yet serious literary treat that I must stick with it just in case it turns out to be worth the effort.
But this makes me think of other Australian authors I’ve read. I can think of only a handful: Bryce Courtenay (Smoky Joe’s Café, Jessica), Janet Turner Hospital (Due Preparation for the Plague), Richard Flanagan (Narrow Road to the Deep North), Colleen McCoullough (The Thornbirds), Michael Robotham (many novels), Christos Tsioklas (The Slap) and of course Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda, Amnesia). There are many others that I should explore, but that may be a project I undertake another time – I have so little time to read just for fun these days.
That’s all for today. Happy Family Day!
Bye for now…