Cover image of "Amnesia," a novel about hackers

In Amnesia, Peter Carey blends a story of young Australian hackers with a powerful overlay of socialist politics. The result could have been outstanding, if only it weren’t so difficult to read.

Amnesia is written in an elliptical style that’s clearly not intended to make things easy for the reader, and that’s only the beginning of the confusion. The novel is divided into two parts. In the first part, the first-person narrator is Felix Moore, one of Australia’s best-known journalists. Felix has just been convicted of libel in a high-profile trial where he was pitted against one of his favorite adversaries, a government minister. In Part Two, the narration is couched in the third person, although passages slip back into the first person, sometimes featuring Felix and other times featuring (separately) the mother and daughter who are two of the novel’s other principal characters. As I said, confusing.

As though all that doesn’t make things sufficiently difficult for the reader, Carey liberally scatters Australian slang and obsolete British formulations throughout the text — words such as cobber, dobbin, pash, mestered, and sooled. If you know the meaning of these words and aren’t Australian, I’d wonder how you’ve been spending your time all these years.


Amnesia by Peter Carey ★★★☆☆


Admittedly, I have no patience for such things. If you’re prepared to brave your way through this novel, you might enjoy it immensely. The story that emerges at length is timely, engaging, and important.

The amnesia of the title — Carey puts it as “The Great Amnesia of 1975” in the text — refers to the media’s obfuscation and the public’s indifference to what he describes as the extra-constitutional ouster of Australia’s Labor government in that year, spearheaded, he claims, by the CIA.

Carey’s protagonist, Felix Moore, is a belligerent socialist who constantly gets himself into trouble. His worldview is encapsulated in this way: “[S]he was born into the Anthropocene age and easily saw that the enemy was not one nation state but a cloud of companies, corporations, contractors, statutory bodies whose survival meant the degradation of water, air, soil, life itself.”

Peter Carey, Australia’s most honored novelist, is a two-time winner of the Booker Prize, which could be either good or bad (but is usually bad), so far as I’m concerned. But it’s clear that the man can wordsmith with great skill. I just wish he would write more clearly. And, since he has lived in New York for the past twenty years, I would think he might dispense with all the Australian slang by now. And maybe he should pick up a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style to learn how to write more clearly.

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