The latest publication by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, a prolific author since leaving federal politics in 2013, is a political memoir that defies the norms of this often-predictable genre. Largely abandoning chronological narrative, Carr offers a disjointed sequence of nearly fifty short chapters that sing, in his own description, like jazz-inspired improvisations. These fragments – confessions, hypotheticals, diary excerpts, correspondence, flashbacks, and a curious ‘flash forward’ to 2050 when he will be aged 102, make for a stylistically unusual and readable combination.
‘Fling the whole thing in the air and see where it lands,’ he warns us at the outset. It works, mostly. But I suspect that writing this memoir involved less carefree improvising and more careful curating. Offered a glimpse of the private individual behind the public figure, we find a droll, smart, energetic, highly ambitious policy wonk – no surprises there. He inherited and, as premier from 1995 to 2005, came to embody the determinedly centrist traditions of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party, and now as memoirist he is their defender and enforcer. More unexpectedly, we discover in these pithy reconstructions a genuinely reflective personality, aware of the limits and constraints of Labor leadership as well as of its possibilities, and ready to offer corrective advice to his own former self as well as to future party leaders in opposition and in government.