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Peter Carey Biography

(1943– ), The Fat Man in History, War Crimes, Bliss, Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda, Father and Son

Australian novelist and short-story writer, born in Victoria, educated at Monash University, where he studied science. After working for advertising agencies in Melbourne and London he later established his own advertising agency in Sydney. His first two publications were short stories collected in The Fat Man in History (1974) and War Crimes (1979); grotesquely funny, set in frightening, futuristic worlds, they provide a scathing critique of contemporary values, and yet register compassion for the ungainly beings they feature. His first novel, Bliss (1981), displays a similar predilection for the bizarre in its account of the life of Harry Joy, an advertising man who dies three times and passes through hell, purgatory, and heaven; in this, as in his short fiction, Carey's writing provides a wryly inventive perspective on a modern world obsessed with materialism and with competitive values, offering surreal alternatives in which the reader is disturbingly deprived of traditional referents. His magic realist novelIllywhacker (1985), narrated by a 139-year-old man, also showed his interest in ‘extending reality’. Oscar and Lucinda (1988; Booker Prize) combined skilful pastiche of nineteenth-century novels such as Edmund Gosse's Father and Son with magic realist quest; Oscar Hopkins, a young Anglican clergyman, becomes obsessed with the idea of building a glass church in the Australian outback and enlists the aid of Lucinda Leplastrier, an eccentric heiress he meets on a ship bound for New South Wales. The Tax Inspector (1991) is a surreal black comedy about three generations of an Australian family: the central character, Benny Catchprice, loses his job in the family motor business on the day that the Tax Inspector, Maria Takis, who is eight months pregnant, arrives to begin her audit of the firm; other characters in the cast include an ageing matriarch, Granny Catchprice, and a child who wants to become an angel. In The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), Carey creates imaginary countries, folklore, and languages in a dazzling adventure that parodies colonial politics and is inhabited by the world of the theatre. His Collected Short Stories were published in 1995.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Burghers of Calais to Peter Carey Biography