Australia's Peter Carey is one of only three writers to have twice won the Man Booker Prize, an award he captured in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang. His 13th novel, Amnesia, which kicks off with an extraordinary act of cyberterrorism, was released this past week.
Why did you write your book?
Because Australians are still in denial about the CIA's toppling of its elected government in 1975. Because Americans have never been told what happened. Because Canadians have a constitutional monarchy and should know what happened in ours. That is, our elected government was dismissed by the Queen of England's man.
Anyone wishing to investigate further might read John Pilger's A Secret Country or even watch John Schlesinger's excellent 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman with Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. Hutton plays the character of Christopher Boyce, who went to work for a CIA contractor (TRW) and was given the job of decoding satellite messages transmitted from Pine Gap, an American "signals facility" in Australia. Boyce was an idealist and a U.S. patriot but he was outraged to discover the CIA was actively working to destabilize the Australian government and then, as he said later, made the huge mistake of going to war with the CIA.
He was 21 and angry and decided to punish the CIA by passing secrets to the Russians. He was arrested and went to jail for 20 years, much of it spent in solitary. At his trial, the judge would not admit any evidence of CIA malfeasance so his voice was never heard.
You need to know none of this to enjoy Amnesia, which was written for Australians who had forgotten and other people who know none of the events and characters. It is, I hope, a funny and fast-moving story, not a history exam. But if you want to know more, Netflix has The Falcon and the Snowman or you can read John Pilger.
What agreed-upon classic do you despise?
Not despise. How can I despise a hugely talented writer who worked for years and then was shat on by the critics? But I do not share the enthusiasm for Moby-Dick, and always suspect its rediscovery came at a time when there was an academic need for such a great American novel to exist. Being myself of colonial extraction, I have a keen nose for colonial anxieties, and the notion of a "Great (Your Country Here) Novel" seems whiffy to me.
If aliens landed on Earth, which book would you give them to teach them about humanity?
Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies, because they can learn the essentials without shooting anyone, and because it gives me a chance to tell you that Amnesia features a real-life text adventure game called Zork.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
The Magic Pudding. Because he is the most popular character in all fiction and cannot be expected to supply the wine himself.
Which book do you think is under-appreciated?
Helen Garner's This House of Grief. Helen is simply one of the very, very best writers in Australia. Why the work has not "travelled" well I cannot say. Yes, it is absolutely local, but so is Dubliners and all of Balzac. My New York friends who discover Garner become immediate converts. This will probably be true for you.
This interview was edited and condensed.