Archive for August, 2010


The Fat Man in History by Peter Carey resulted in a split readership. This is not unusual for bookgroup. There is often a camp that likes the book and one that does not. The difference this time was that the split coincided with which edition of the book we read.

Those of us that read the edition pictured above (published 1993) generally loved it whilst those who read the edition pictured below (published 1974) hated it.

The explanation – although both books have the same title and the same author they are different collections. The ’74 edition below is the original whereas the ’93 edition was collated by carey in 1980 but not published until ’93. it includes the following stories from the ’74 edition
The Fat Man in History
American Dreams
A Windmill in the West

but the remainder are from a 1979 collection published under the title of ‘war crimes’. these include
The Chance
Exotic Pleasures
War Crimes
Do You Love Me?
The Puzzling Nature of Blue
The Last Days of a Famous Mime

This means that in 1980 carey chose not to include the following from the original ’74 collection
Conversations with Unicorns
Room No. 5 (Escribo)
Life and Death in the South Side Pavilion
Report on the Shadow Industry

Bookgroupers who disliked the ’74 edition admitted they did like a couple of stories and mostly these were the ones included in the ’93 collection

So why the difference?

Carey is one of only 2 writers to win the booker – oscar and lucinda in 1988 and true history of the kelly gang in 2001. Personally i hated oscar and lucinda – because i couldnt have cared less about either oscar or lucinda, but i loved the kelly gang.

two things are interesting about that – firstly some bookgroupers felt the opposite, that is hated kelly gang but loved O&L, secondly one of the chief criticisms of the the ’74 collection was that readers didnt care about the characters.

so lessons for readers considering reading some carey
– just because you liked one of his books doesnt mean you will like all of them, and vice versa
– expect unlikeable characters
– if you can get past the characters there are likely to be other rewards in the imagery, or the imaginative ideas or the language

i loved the ’93 collection because it was a very imaginative take, i would even say satire, on the politics of the ’70s. basically it is a collection of stories set in imagined futures, you could call them sci fi scenarios, and each one analyses a different aspect of ’70s politics.

  • the ‘windmill in the west’ is a great satire of cold war military bureacracy gone mad
  • ‘war crimes’ is a great satire of capitalism gone mad and very relevant to the GFC.
  • The ‘puzzling nature of blue’ is a very neat morality play but also a bit of a sideways attack at the the ’70s left.
  • both ‘the fat man in history’ and ‘the chance’ are a bit dated in the sense that they satirise a version of revolutionary politics that no longer exists in the west, so satirising it is a bit pointless. but it did exist when carey wrote it, so i dont think we can criticise him for that, and other versions of revolutionary politics do still exist, in the islamic world for example, maybe critics of that politics from those cultures might find something in these stories. despite the lack of relevance i still found both stories very imaginative and interesting, and definitely worth reading
  • ‘exotic pleasures’ you could read as some sort of assessment of addiction and hedonism, but perhaps more importantly its an interesting sci fi story
  • ‘american dreams’ was a very sweet, painfull and accurate depiction of country towns like the one i grew up in, and presumably also suburban areas of the early ’70s
  • so to the bottom line – if you want to read some of the earliest works of one of the worlds most critically acclaimed authors these books are the place to go – and the best bet is the ’93 edition, but be warned, carey is a divisive author and you may or may not like these works.


    August 7, 2010 at 6:22 am Leave a comment


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