Review - AMNESIA, Peter Carey
The blurb on the back of AMNESIA reads exactly like that of a really good thriller. A threat that unleashes something frightening in the world, and the battle to find the perpetrator.
Which seemed, by the end of the book, to be written for another AMNESIA, somewhere in a parallel universe. One where the book we were reading actually addressed the major plot elements, rather than immediately meandering off into something or other about an ex-journalist / ghost writer who had a bit of a hump up with the world who ... something.
It's certainly possible to see what Carey was trying to do here. There's obviously an attempt at humour and lashings of irony. A bored observation of the boring concept of boring threats instigated by the world's biggest baddie. Or at least that's a best guess.
Which would be perfectly fair enough. It's not like the concept of political interference and corruption, cyber-threats and big-power lording it over supposed allies is new fare in the world of thrillers. There is a reasonable argument to be had about it being done to death. The difference is that in most of that style of book that this reader has read, the actual threats, the players, and the consequences are explored, analysed and frequently even explained.
In the case of AMNESIA it doesn't feel like any of that is even attempted. Added to that was a rather predictable pattern of "left and right" Australian political thought, yet another "perspective" on the 1975 Dismissal and, alas, a somewhat stunning lack of technical validity for the whole worm infection in the first place.
Add to that a tendency to pastiche the Australian-ness of the setting, and AMNESIA rapidly lurched into something that seemed more like a self-involved, navel gazing, rights of passage for some drunken old journo than anything like a thriller.
Amnesia, Peter Carey's first Australian novel since True History of the Kelly Gang, moves between the critical dates of 2010, 1942 and 1975 to ask the most vital question of the past seventy years: Has America taken us over?
How did a young woman from suburban Melbourne become America's Public Enemy number one?
When Gaby Baillieux releases the Angel Worm into the computers of Australia's prison system, hundreds of asylum seekers walk free. Worse: an American corporation runs prison security, so the malware infects some 5000 American places of incarceration. Doors spring open. Both countries' secrets threaten to pour out.
Was this American intrusion a mistake, or had Gaby declared cyberwar on the US? Felix Moore – known to himself as 'Australia's last serving left-wing journalist' – has no doubt. Her act was part of the covert conflict between Australia and America. That conflict dates back to the largely forgotten Battle of Brisbane in 1942, forwards to the secret CIA station near Alice Springs, and has as its most outrageous act the coup of 1975. Funded by his property-developer mate Woody Townes, Felix is going to write Gaby's biography, to save her, and himself, and maybe his country.
But how to get Gaby to co-operate? What role does her film-star mother have to play? And what, after all, does Woody really want?
Amnesia is Carey at his best: dark, funny, exhilarating. It is a novel that speaks powerfully about our history but most urgently about our present.