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24 November 2014 Books


Pulling threads from the stories of Wikileaks and the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Government, Peter Carey’s newest novel, Amnesia, focuses on a few 1970s radicals who have now grown up and don’t realise they have raised children more radical, more powerful and smarter than themselves.

The main character of Amnesia is Felix Moore, a veteran left-wing investigative journalist. Ageing, with a big mortgage and forced by the courts to dispose of his libellous book, Felix is a bit lost. But then he is commissioned by an old university acquaintance to write a biography of Gabrielle Baillieux (aka Gaby or ‘Fallen Angel’), a hacker who ‘unlocked’ prisons and detention centres across Australia and the US. Gaby is now up for extradition to the US, and the biography is intended to assist her defence case.

In his 13th book, Carey blurs truth and fiction with much literary and political name-dropping. Real names, dates and places are littered across the pages. The story is strung across some key moments in history, ranging from the WWII Battle of Brisbane riots, Whitlam’s removal (which Felix believes was a CIA-backed move designed to protect the US military base at Pine Gap) and Gaby’s present day hacktivism. The pace is furious as the story jumps through the different times, reading almost as hysteria on the page. Characters behave dramatically and wildly, without letting the reader into any emotional knowledge of their lives. At times the story is told so convolutedly that any specific emphasis is lost. As satire, if that’s what it is, it misses its mark.

A distinct ‘old boys’ club’ feel does pervade Amnesia: if you aren’t across the events of the Whitlam Government, you might feel on the outside of this story. The sections that show us how Gaby and her boyfriend, Frederic, feel when they are online are some of the best parts of the book, but they are few and far between. These young people are doing things out in the world – both the real and the virtual – but the story doesn’t hang on their moves.

Computer code can be elegant and the art of hacking graceful, but there is little grace in Amnesia. The tone feels bitter rather than blackly comic or absurd. While it’s billed as a book for our present, it already feels dated.

» Amnesia is out now.

This article was first published in Ed#470

Pip Newling