Peter Carey was born in 1943 in the small town of Bacchus Marsh in Victoria, Australia, to parents who were both car dealers. He attended the Geelong Grammar boarding school before entering Monash University. After dropping out of the university’s science program in the early 1960s, Carey spent the next five years working at various advertising agencies in Melbourne as a copywriter. During this time he met then aspiring writers Morris Lurie and Barry Oakley, who turned him onto literature and writing. After travelling and living in London for a brief time, he returned to Australia in 1970. He continued to support himself writing advertising copy while penning most of the stories in his first book, The Fat Man in History (1974). The publication of this book and his award-winning second short-story collection, War Games(1979), established Carey as an important new figure in Australian literature.
Like Carey’s short stories, his award-winning novels, such as Bliss (1981) and Illywhacker (1985), demonstrate a gift for rendering the bizarre and fantastical as if they were the norm. The London Evening Standard observed that “[Carey] changes your eyesight. He sucks you into a world that has nothing to do with anything or anyone and leaves you forgetting that you ever knew another.” In 1988, Carey released his extraordinary third novel, Oscar and Lucinda. Winner of the Booker Prize, the novel tells the unlikely love story of two compulsive gamblers who attempt to transport a glass church across the Australian Outback. In its review, The New York Times wrote “that like Thomas Wolfe, [Carey possesses] that magnificent vitality, that ebullient delight in character, detail and language that turns a novel into an important book.”
Carey has since written four other highly praised novels: The Tax Inspector (1991), The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), Jack Maggs (1998), and True History of the Kelly Gang (2001). The latter tells the story of Australia’s most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly, whose tale Carey believes is one of Australia’s three great classic stories. “I really do believe that literature grows out of place,” says Carey. “I believe that I’m an Australian writer, and I don’t think I’m going to stop being an Australian writer.” This book won a second Booker prize for Carey.
In addition to novels, Carey has written two screenplays. Bliss, a film based on his novel, was awarded Best Film and Best Screenplay at Australia’s 1985 national film awards. He also co-wrote Until the End of the World with director Wim Wenders. Carey’s only children’s book, The Big Bazoohley, was published in 1995. For the past ten years, Carey has lived in New York and taught at Columbia University.
Excerpt from True History of the Kelly Gang (2001)
In the days before our father were imprisoned we Kelly children would walk to school along the creek but now we took a new path through the police paddock where the lockup stood. Apart from this stockade the paddock had no feature other than a dreary mound of clay which marked the grave of Doxcy’s mare. Even this miserable sight my father were denied for there was not one window in them heavy walls. At 1st we would shout out to him but never got any answer and finally we all give up excepting Jem who run his hands along the frost cold walls patting the prison like a dog.
I dreamed about my father every night he come to sit on the end of my bed and stare at me his puffy eyes silent his face lacerated by a thousand knife cuts.
I were so v. guilty I could never of admitted that life without my father had become in many ways more pleasant. Only when his big old buck cat went missing did I finally tell my ma I were pleased to see it gone.
Do not misundersand me our lives was far harder for his absence. The landlord provided no decent fences so the mother and her children was obliged to build a dogleg fence 2 mi. long to save our cows from impounding. In any case our stock would still escape the fines was 5/- for a cow 3/- for a pig. This we could ill afford. Our mother were expecting another baby she were always weary yet more tender than before. At night she would gather us about her and tell us stories and poems she never done that when my da were away shearing or contracting but now we discovered this treasure she had committed to her memory. She knew the stories of Conchobor and Dedriu and Mebd the table of Cuchulainn I still see him stepping into his war chariot it bristles with points of iron and narrow blades with hooks and hard prongs and straps and loops and cords.
The southerly wind blew right through the hut and it were so bitter it made your head ache though it ain’t the cold I remember but the light of the tallow candle it were golden on my mother’s cheeks it shone in her great dark eyes bright and fierce as a native cat to defend her fatherless brood. In the stories she told us of the old country there was many such women they was queens they was hot blooded not careful they would fight a fight and take a king into their marriage bed. They would have been called Irish rubbish in Avenel.
Selected WorkTrue History of the Kelly Gang (2001)Jack Maggs (1997)The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994)The Tax Inspector (1991)Oscar and Lucinda (1988)Illywacker (1985)Bliss (1981)
LinksAuthor’s websiteBook review on Jack Maggs from Time Magazine, Inc.New York Times featured author