Monday, March 12, 2018

Interviewing Peter Carey

Last Monday, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Peter Carey about his latest novel, A Long Way from Home.  I thought the novel was fantastic and Carey in person was warm and relaxed, thoughtful and funny. The interview was part of the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon series at the Toronto Reference Library. It'll be posted here soon.

Here's how I introduced him before the interview:

I’m so pleased to be here tonight.  Thank you all for coming for what I’m certain will be a marvellous evening with the marvellous Peter Carey.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we’re on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Anishnabe, and Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, and home to many diverse Indigenous peoples. The territory is also part of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant. We are grateful to have the opportunity to live and work on this territory.

And perhaps I should also acknowledge before our conversation, that, it’ll be two white guys who amongst other things will be talking about indigenous issues.

Peter Carey is the author of fourteen novels, including Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang both of which received the Booker Prize. Among other honours, he has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. 

He was born in the town of Bacchus March in Australia — coincidently, the very same place that the Bobs family in his new novel call home. And it’s a further coincidence that, like the Bobs family, his parents also owned a car dealership in the town in the 1950s. Peter Carey has, however, lived in the US for many years. 

In Oscar and Lucinda, we read about Oscar’s father, Theophilus Hopkins. We learn that “You can look him up in the 1860 Britannica,” but “it does not tell you what he was like. You can read it three times over and never guess that he had any particular attitude to Christmas pudding.”

Peter Carey’s new novel, A Long Way from Home doesn’t tell us about anything about his attitude toward Christmas pudding, but, the novel, which he says “is the novel he spent his whole life not knowing how to write” explores some of the perennial themes of his writing: parenthood, love, journeys into urban spaces, the bush and the outback, history, legacy, ideology, settler colonialism, immigration, and the nature of power, identity, knowledge, truth, loss…and car dealerships. In many ways, it is the culmination of his previous concerns, but also marks a  new concern: a deeply thoughtful and sensitive reckoning with Australia’s brutality toward the continent’s Aboriginal people.

To quote the author, “I am 74 years old. It’s about fucking time I did this. I could have had a heart attack last week, or last year, or two years ago and would’t have done it. I prefer to have done it.”

But the proof is in the pudding. A Long Way from Home is hilarious, moving, and profound, filled with compelling characters and vivid and captivating storytelling.

Here’s a quick intro to the book, lifted from the publicity materials. A Long Way from Home opens in 1953 with the arrival of the tiny, handsome Titch Bobs, his beautiful petite wife, Irene, and their two children in the small town of Bacchus Marsh. Titch is the best car salesman in southeastern Australia and has an overbearing father. Irene loves her husband…and loves to drive fast. Together their enter the Redex Trial, a brutal endurance race around Australia, over roads no car is designed to survive. With them is their neighbour and navigator, Willie Bachhuber, a quiz show champion and a school teacher who’s been fired from his job. He calls the turns and creek crossings on a map leads them without warning away from the White Australia they all know. And then…well… I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s say the car doesn’t hits an iceberg and sink and they don’t drop the ring into avolcano and save the world. But perhaps we can talk about what develops toward the end of the race.

I’m truly honoured that we have the opportunity to have Peter Carey with us tonight to talk about the book. He’ll begin with a short reading and then we’ll have a chat and after that, there’ll be an opportunity for you to ask him some questions. 

Please join me now in welcoming Peter Carey. 

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