Patrick Allington reviews Peter Carey's 'Amnesia'

Patrick Allington reviews Peter Carey's 'Amnesia'


by Peter Carey

Hamish Hamilton, $32.99 pb, 378 pp, 9781926428604

Peter Carey’s new novel, Amnesia, is an odd-shaped – but not misshaped – tale about power and, more particularly, resistance to power. When the veteran leftist journalist Felix Moore writes the story of Gaby Baillieux, a young Australian cyber-activist, he finds himself, like Gaby, a fugitive. As if by magic, Gaby has unlocked Australian and US prison doors; it is Felix’s job, when he’s not guzzling red wine, to make her likeable enough to avoid extradition. But Felix has an independent agenda: using hours of tape recordings made by Gaby and her famous mother, Celine, he fashions his own version of Gaby’s life, taking the sort of liberties you might expect from a journalist with a penchant for writing failed novels and attracting libel writs.

Amnesia contains multiple personal, political, personal-political, and cross-generational threads. It is a sprawling construction that draws together the past and something approximating the present, with a nod to a discordant future. Among much else, Carey links three key moments: the 1942 Battle of Brisbane, when Australian and US forces fought each other on Brisbane streets; John Kerr’s removal of the Whitlam government in 1975, which Felix firmly believes was a CIA coup designed to protect the US base at Pine Gap; and Gaby and her group’s very twenty-first-century challenge to the established order of things. The point of these threads is not merely that all events, or all people for that matter, are connected; rather, the point, certainly from Felix’s perspective, is to highlight society’s capacity to overlook political crimes and shenanigans.

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Patrick Allington

Patrick Allington

Patrick Allington was the recipient of the inaugural ABR Patrons’ Fellowship, worth $5000. His novel, Figurehead (Black Inc. 2009), was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. His short fiction and book criticism appears in Australian newspapers, magazines, and journals, including regularly in ABR.

Published in October 2014 no. 365