“I’m about to do something very stupid,” writer Peter Carey said as he stood at the podium in Love Auditorium last Thursday, October 31.
Following a warm and laudatory introduction by Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Jane Pinchin, Carey, whose most recent novel, “The Chemistry of Tears,” was read by students in the Living Writers class, took to the stage. The “something stupid” Carey was referring to was reading from his as-of-yet unpublished novel, “Amnesia,” which Carey completed the night before his Colgate visit and which he claimed his wife cautioned him against reading.
Carey has won the Booker Prize twice, a feat only accomplished by the writers J.M. Coetzee and Hilary Mantel. He is perhaps best known for his novel “Oscar and Lucinda,” and is now the executive director of the MFA program at Hunter College. From the portion that Carey read, “Amnesia” represents a departure from his previous work. Whereas “The Chemistry of Tears” follows Catherine Gehrig, a London conservator whose boss and secret lover has died and Henry Brandling, a 19th-century Englishman on a quest to commission a clockwork duck for his dying son, “Amnesia,” which will be Carey’s fifteenth published novel, is set in his native Australia. The novel is narrated by an out-of-work journalist, described by Carey as “unreliable,” on trial for libel. After he loses his job, wife, and house, a shifty friend gives him the opportunity to write a book about a young hacker on trial for opening prisons across America and Australia. Australian figures like Manning Clark and Rupert Murdoch receive attention. The story resembles a thriller from the first lines, which describe the hacking of a prison security system. However, it was written and delivered with a comic lightness, ondisplayed in a scene where the journalist torches advance copies of his book and manages to set his house on fire in the process while his listless children continue to watch “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”
Carey emphasized the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans, which are evident in the way his new novel is written. Indeed, Carey is known for being something of a cultural chameleon; he has lived in Australia, Europe and the United States, and has works set in each of these locales.