Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Carey, Peter

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(1943-    ) Australian writer whose work has always pressed at the edges of mundane worlds, describing them in terms of Magic Realism or through the medium of unreliable narrators. His first tales of fantasy interest appear in The Fat Man in History (coll 1974) and War Crimes: Short Stories (coll 1979), selections from both volumes being published as The Fat Man in History (coll 1980 UK; vt Exotic Pleasures 1981 UK). Here sf and fantasy themes generally appear not for their own sake but as emblems of alienation. A tale like "Do You Love Me?" describes attempts to generate a Reality-sustaining Map of a country which is losing its grip on itself; but attempting this task simply widens the gap between the fallen world and any Reality from which we may have slipped.

PC's first novel, Bliss (1981), is a Posthumous Fantasy if its protagonist can be believed, but under any reading it is about trying to create a Heaven, either on Earth or beyond; it was filmed as Bliss (1986), with a treatment by PC and Ray Lawrence published as Bliss: The Film * (1986). Illywhacker (1984) constitutes a kind of Australian Creation Myth – if the story of white Australians can be plausibly treated as an instigating one, and if the protagonist's claims can be believed – a huge lifespan, vast and magical experiences, and Talents (he professes, during the period he works as a stage Magician, to be capable of genuine Invisibility). Oscar and Lucinda (1988), which won the Booker Prize, is technically a mundane novel, but the River at its heart is as saturated and fantastic a Symbol of the Australian experience as anything found in a nonmimetic text. The Tax Inspector (1991) sticks closer to ascertainable reality; but The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994) is set in an Alternate-World Earth incorporating two Imaginary Lands: the domineering Voorstand and the Archipelago called Efica. The story itself, in which a surreal kind of theatrical life emblematizes the difference between this world and ours, stops abruptly; other resemblances to The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), which likewise stops before finishing, include a protracted pre-birth narrative on the part of the protagonist. The Big Bazoohley (1995) is a YA tale involving a Witch. [JC]

Peter Carey


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.