Where Angels Do Not Fear to Hack Back: Peter Carey, Amnesia


Nataša Kampmark

Journal of the European Association for Studies of Australia (JEASA), Vol.6 No.1, 2015.


Book review


Nataša Kampmark

Where Angels Do Not Fear to Hack Back:

Peter Carey, Amnesia. Melbourne: Hamish Hamilton, 2014. 376pp. ISBN 9781926428604


Peter Carey is the master of dramatic, intriguing and far-fetched opening sentences, starting with his first novel Bliss ("Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him"), through to his first short-listed Booker Prize novel Illywhacker ("My name is Herbert Badgery. I am a hundred and thirty-nine years old and something of a celebrity."), and to the second Booker Prize winning True History of the Kelly Gang ("I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false."), to name but a few. In his thirteenth novel, Carey treats his readers to another arresting beginning in the style of Jarmusch's 1991 Night on Earth: "It was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22.00 Greenwich Mean Time when a worm entered the computerised control systems of countless Australian prisons and released the locks in many other places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed" (3).

Much in the manner of an abstract of a scholarly article, within its four first pages Carey's novel captures the gist of the entire book on several levels of critical interest, namely in terms of characters, themes and style. Felix Moore, "a sole remaining left-wing journalist" (6), as he likes to think of himself, might have been lucky 98 times before, but by the 99th time not only are his pants on fire, but so is his family home. If he had been a phoenix, he might have been able to rise from the ashes on his own, but as Carey would have it, he is just lucky enough to have a shady old mate, the corrupt property developer Woody Townes, to always get him out of trouble. While Woody's motives remain unresolved as much as the end he meets, Carey uses the mechanism of the unreliable narrator as the mouthpiece for truth, as he has done on previous notable occasions which include Bliss, Illywhacker or My Life as a Fake. As Felix is literally kidnapped and kept within the confines of (ever changing) house arrest, Carey toys with the notions of truth and freedom hinging on the issue of identity both in a political context, as he scrutinises the relationship between the US and Australia, and in a personal context, as he portrays the lives of his principal characters: the Australian hacker behind the infamous computer worm, Gaby Baillieux, who is delivered into this world just as the Labor Whitlam government is dispatched from it; Gaby's mother and middling actress, Celine Baillieux, whose conception violently put an end to her mother's virginity as well as to any innocence in the Australian-American relationship on Australian soil during WWII; and Felix Moore, a disreputable journalist sued for defamation, known as "Felix Moore-or-less correct" (151), hired in order to write the truth which will set him (and, presumably, Gaby) free.


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