New readings of Peter Carey

New readings of Peter Carey

Rewriting History: Peter Carey’s Fictional Biography of Australia

by Andreas Gaile

Rodopi, €72 pb, 348 pp, 9789042030701

Joseph Wiesenfarth

Joseph Wiesenfarth

Joseph Wiesenfarth is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written extensively


Andreas Gaile presents his Rewriting History as Peter Carey’s biography of Australia. Before he gives us the facts of that biography, however, he suggests why Carey cannot write a biography of Australia: ‘there is no “real” Australia waiting to be uncovered. A national identity is an invention.’ He elaborates this by a series of excursions into postmodernist theories of narration and discussions of magical realism. He demonstrates that Carey uses the techniques of these theories and fictional modes, even though, in the matter of post-structuralism, he tells us that Carey denies any knowledge of it. Nonetheless, we are treated to such sentences as this: ‘transgressions of narrative levels ... manifest themselves in “any intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe (or by diegetic characters into a metadiegetic universe, etc.), or the inverse”,’ which seems to mean that shifting narrative techniques prevent any story from being true; therefore, mythistory replaces history. Consequently, ‘Carey’s fictions – even if they are not true – still are meant to replace an older, even more untruthful version of the past.’ ‘Not true’ and ‘more untruthful’ present readers such as myself with a logical problem. But not Gaile, because for him ‘There is no representation, only construction’. So Carey constructs a biography that is supposedly truer than, say, Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore (1987), which is as revisionary a history as Carey’s mythistory; indeed, more astringently so.

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Published in May 2011 no. 331