The back jacket indicates that Peter Carey is available for select speaking engagements. I am thinking honorarium before I begin reading “Amnesia”. Peter Carey was a “Mad Man” in Australia, so self-promotion would not be inconsistent. On the other hand, he is one of only three two-time recipients of the Booker Prize. Is it money, rather than promotion? He did not want to expand the Booker Prize to include A.merican authors, although he has lived and written in New York for two decades. His venue remains Australia in spite of this. A bit of a puzzler.
Unfortunately “Amnesia” is more a maze than a puzzle. It might have been aptly titled “Adolescence” or “Australia and America”. I have not read Mr. Carey’s other works, and perhaps he was experimenting with a cyber spy-thriller genre, but this is not a successful experiment.
Gaby Ballieux, a love striken adolescent from a dysfunctional family of an actress mom and minor Australian Labor minister dad has released a worm into the Australia’s prison computer system which is apparently linked to U.S. prison. Prisoners are released and she is to be prosecuted. A failing but notable Australian writer is coerced to write a favorable biography in hopes of proving Gaby’s innocence. The writer, whose life is in danger for aiding and abetting, is in hiding throughout most of the book while writing this biography. The plot is very contrived.
The cyber aspect is thin. It is wrapper to make the book commercially current. Mr. Carey’s main theme appears to be anti-Americanism in Australia starting with the 1942 Battle of Brisbane during World War II. This violent multiple day street brawl between the armed services from both countries was attributable to a variety of factors: women; racism; cultural differences and the economic privilege of Americans; liquor and misunderstandings. The event was censored in the spirit of allied unity. The other aspect of this anti-American theme is the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. Exercising Section 64 of the Australian Constitution for the first time, Australian Labor party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr in favor of Liberal party Malcolm Fraser. Parliamentary issues aside, Mr. Carey focuses on alleged CIA (he does not mention MI6) interference because Whitlam wanted Australia to be non-aligned and was to reveal the CIA’s spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs Australia. Purportedly Governor- General Kerr was on the CIA’s payroll. As with Snowden and NSA it was claimed that MI6 and the CIA bugged the Australian government. The alleged “coup” was Chile redux.
If all of this seems disjointed and directionless it is. I kept waiting to learn about the hacking of the prison system, but the focus on hacking was on the systems of a dioxin polluter of an Australian creek. Mr. Carey’s cyber research for this book seems to be less in-depth than Wikipedia.
The only consistent theme in this novel is teenage angst: To get approval of her nerd boyfriend during the formative years of computer hacking a girl becomes bourgeois radical. Yawn.
Perhaps the editors at Knopf knew they could get testimonials for this book or just could not tell a prize-winning commercial success to do a rewrite. Fortunately, I am in the middle of two rewarding books. Maybe “Amnesia” is a good title, as this book is forgettable.