Australian Lit Round-up: Peter Carey

by ConduitCanada

G’day mates! Some of you may know that Conduit Canada temporarily resides in New South Wales, Australia.  We thought this week it would be appropriate to promote an Australian writer: Peter Carey.

The following is an excerpt from our favourite Australian novel entitled My Life as a Fake.  The novel is a fictionalization of a fascinating episode in Australian literature in which two disgruntled, conservative poets parodied modernist poetics to Australia by creating a pseudonym and publishing poems they had composed as a joke in an influential small poetry magazine.  Interestingly enough, most readers took the poems seriously and the pseudonym took on a life of its own, producing more reprints in anthologies than the actual authors themselves.  This is a well-known story in Australian circles and worth a look for those interested in international modernisms.  Here’s some preliminary resources:

In Carey’s novel, a young magazine editor is on a quest to discover the truth behind a composite of Ern Malley.  The following is an excerpt from My Life as a Fake, chapter 25 by Peter Carey (Random House, 2003):

I went to bed with the disconcerting knowledge that almost everything about my life was incorrect, that I had been baptized in blood and raised on secrets and misconstructions which had, obviously, made me who I was.

Yet to finally glimpse my white dress dyed with my mother’s blood was, quite honestly, not much worse than the horror I’d invented for myself. If my life had been shaped by my misunderstanding of John Slater, I was not unhappy with the shape itself. For no matter what crooked road I had traveled  it led me to the moment when I first opened ‘The Waste Land’ and found the laws all broken, and in those dazzling eruptions and disconcerting schisms I saw a world whose dreadful harmonies I never guessed existed. How I fed off it, puzzled at it, peered into it, scratched its scabby surfaces to uncover the coral reef below. I had read poetry before, of course, but nothing that prepared me for this- and no matter why I hated Slater or wished to prick the pretensions of his verse, I arrived at ‘The Waste Land’ and knew that to be both mysterious and true. It is very hard to wish things had happened any other way.

Actually, what had most startled me about the evening’s revelation was my father’s sexual nature.  It was this that later stopped me from sleeping. Perhaps Slater had been correct-I should not have looked behind my parents’ bedroom door, for not even three large glasses of scotch should still whirling pictures in my head. For hours and hours I put Boofy with all the men I recalled from childhood, one one one, together, getting accustomed to the idea. I mean I mated him. I put him with the Squire to see how that would fit or feel. I put him with our gardener-my father’s mustache to the one side, Wilke’s stubbly chin to the other- but of course it was already too late to learn the truth. Had Boofy prayed to God in Chapel to forgive? Did he think it a stinky, beastly business the moment it was over? That is not at all what I would wish for him. No, I would prefer that he strolled up the hill with a blond-haired actor, just as casually as Slater has said. I wish for them to stroke the horse together, and for Lord Wode-Douglass to move his broad hand from the horse’s flank to between the young man’s legs.

Of course this desire for the happiness of a dead man is not really about him at all. Like my father, I have a secret.

I have said that I do not like sex, and if you say a think like that clearly enough and manage to make yourself look sufficiently frightful people do tend to believe you. Fortunately or not, it is untrue. And while I had always imagined my secret nature as being perverse and original, I now began to wonder if I was nothing more unique than my father’s daughter.

You must not think me promiscuous, because this is not the case. I live mostly like a monk inside a cell, surrounded by my mess, my manuscripts, cat food, kitty litter, gas fire, and a shilling in the meter. But I am not mild, would never be thought mild by anyone.

I told Slater about my jealous cat, but what I really had was Annabelle- by then my secret for over twenty-five years. We met at the disgusting boarding school they sent me to when Boofy has his breakdown. I was in a fury for ears before she finally arrived. They could not control me. If I had not been The Honourable Sarah Wode-Douglass I am sure they would have sent me down, for I very quickly became a bad girl and was a very well-established bad girl when Annabelle turned up. She was fifteen when I first saw her, such a dazzling creature even then, with very pale skin, very black wavy hair, wide mouth, and the darkest,  most mischievous almost eyes. I fell in love watching her play tennis the first week of term. She was really just a little thing but she has such grace and fight and she gave a little ‘uh’ every time she hit the ball. Dear Jesus. Of course she did not mean to set me off. She was not a bad girl at all, which made it particularly difficult for me to get her attention and for her to understand that she would finally like me very much indeed. I am not patient by nature but with Annabelle I had no choice. From they day I was smitten until the moment that we actually kissed was in fact an entire year, a year made lovely with so many tiny successes, and so much longing.

That summer her assent-minded mother let her come to say at Allenhurst, so in the long day when Boffy was up in London, mostly occupied with not much more than lunch, I had my clever, pretty darling to myself. I shocked her often but delighted her all the more, and there was no part of her that was secret to me.

Annabelle now lives near Kew, where she is terribly respectable, but she does so love to go shopping in Kensington, twice a month if we are lucky. This part of my life is unknown to anyone. The Housewife and I will have a little lunch. She will tell me about the latest crisis with her children and I will complain to her about the magazine. We will shop a little. And some time in the middle of the afternoon I will take her back to Old Church Street.

We are very proper indeed, which is the point. Even when we get to my flat, even when the door is shut, there is not so much as a kiss. I live in a pig sty, it is true, and she cannot bear it. She tidies while I drink her in. She moves around my hovel as she once moved across a tennis court and now my mind is filled with sex and I lie on the sofa watching. She does like how tall I am, the length of me, and I do stretch myself, point my toes, extend my arms back over my head, releasing myself from all the tension that comes from wishing to be small.

This makes her smile, but nothing can happen until she has taken me to wash my hair, and dried it, until she has put make-up on me, and it is as she does this that she begins telling me how well my face is made, how fine my nose, how she alone on earth can own me like this. She makes me look at myself in the mirror and it is true. I am beautiful, but only for her, only with her, in the secret part of my life.

That Monday night in Malaysia, I tossed and turned until somewhere around four o’clock. Finally I dealt with myself, and then I slept.