The Chemistry of Tears
Hamish Hamilton, $39.95 hb, 288 pp, 9781926428154
In his closing address to the 2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival, Peter Carey made a plea on behalf of the fading ‘cult’ of serious reading. This prompted a fierce riposte from Bryce Courtenay: ‘There’s no such thing as popular writing versus literary writing. If I’m a popular writer then Peter Carey is an unpopular writer. If I’m a best-selling writer then he’s a worst-selling writer’ (Crikey, 9 June 2010). Courtenay’s full comments were somewhat more nuanced than the ensuing newspaper headlines suggested. He challenged the creators of Australian ‘literary fiction’ to acknowledge how many readers are – that is, aren’t – attracted to their output. But Courtenay’s suggestion that Carey is ‘unpopular’ is only true if we compare Carey to an author such as Matthew Reilly (using Courtenay’s example), or to Courtenay himself. While I am not privy to Carey’s global sales figures, I would wager that a hefty majority of Australian novelists would envy his readership.