from being a struggling artist, Peter Carey burst upon the scene with
proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia,
on May 7, 1943, Carey's parents owned and operated the
local General Motors car dealership. From that, they made enough money to
live a good full life while sending their son to a
private boarding school, "where the children of Australia's Best Families
all spoke with English accents."
In college, Carey studied chemistry and zoology, but he
wasn't a very good student and struggled constantly with his courses. He had
recently failed his first-year exams when
he was involved in a bad car accident. He sat there following the
accident, covered in glass and blood, thinking about how he suddenly had an excuse
not to return to school.
Carey took a job at an advertising agency where most of the other employees
were aspiring writers, and his coworkers led him to books by William Faulkner,
James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and Samuel Beckett. He had never before read great
literature. He said, "Literature arrived in this weird and very
exciting way all at once, and it was like every book that I read at that
time changed my life."
In his free time,
Carey began writing fiction. After years of
rejections from numerous publishers, he began writing a series of offbeat short
stories. In one, a man peels his wife like an onion, only to
find a plastic doll at her center. Another centered around a pig addicted to narcotics. The stories were collected in books such
as The Fat Man In History (1974), which received rave reviews.
Carey continued to support himself by writing advertising copy,
although he kept his job a secret so that his friends, mostly liberals and
communists, wouldn't learn what he did for
a living. They eventually found out, but to Carey's surprise, they were pleased that
one of "their own" had infiltrated and actually profited from the
Throughout the 1980s, Carey published
a string of offbeat novels involving businessmen, con artists,
and criminals. One, Bliss (1981), is about an advertising
executive named Harry Joy who begins losing his mind following a near-death
experience. Illywhacker (1985) is about
a 139-year-old compulsive
liar whose life parallels the history of independent Australia.
Oscar and Lucinda (1988) is about two compulsive gamblers traveling
through nineteenth century Australia. It won the Booker Prize for
"My great-grandfather drifted up the Bellinger River like a
blind man up the central aisle of Notre Dame. He saw nothing.
The country was thick with sacred stories more ancient than the ones he
carried in his sweat-slippery leather Bible. He did not even imagine
their presence. Some of these stories were as small as the transparent
anthropods that lived in the puddles beneath the river casuarinas.
These stories were like fleas, thrip, so tiny that they might inhabit a
place (inside the ears of the seeds of grass) he would later walk across
without even seeing. In this landscape every rock had a name, and most
names had spirits, ghosts, meanings." - from
Oscar and Lucinda
In 1990, Carey moved with his son and theater-director wife,
Alison Summers, to New York where he taught creative writing at the
University. In True Story of the Kelly Gang
novel, he sought to resurrect the human emotions that make sense of the
story. Although it might sound like a standard historical novel, Erica
Wagner writing in The Times said, "...it stands head and shoulders
above the genre."
Levi, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said, "Carey's pen writes
with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose
that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit
company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas
"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." - from True Story of the Kelly Gang
Carey's 2003 novel, My Life as a Fake
(2003), was inspired by Australia's most famous literary hoax, which
completely humiliated one editor and a number of modernist poets. His
most recent work, Theft (2006), is every bit as bizarre. Told
by the twin voices of artist Butcher Bones and his “damaged
two-hundred-and-twenty-pound brother,” it recounts the brothers' adventures
and troubles after Butcher's drinking problem forces them to retreat to New
South Wales where the formerly famous artist becomes a caretaker and a nurse
to his erratic sibling.
When the mysterious Marlene turns up, claiming that the brothers' friend
and neighbor owns an original Jacques Liebovitz, she sets in motion a chain
of events that could be the making or ruin of them all.
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