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Amnesia - Peter Carey


Published: 14th October 2014
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Published: 14th October 2014
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How does 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, freeing hundreds of asylum seekers, she sets off a chain reaction. These prisons are run by US companies, and so the doors of some 5000 American institutions have also opened. And to some watching eyes, the secrets of both countries threaten to pour out.

Was this a mistake? Or has the elusive Gaby declared cyberwar on the US, as part of the longstanding covert conflict between the two countries that has as its most outrageous act the CIA-engineered coup of 1975 - a coup so brazen we immediately forgot it as part of our Great Amnesia.

Amnesia is Carey at his best: funny, sweeping, intimate, exhilarating. It is a novel that speaks powerfully about our history but most urgently about our present.

'Peter Carey is the greatest Australian writer.' Richard Flanagan

'Never have I read a novel in which I could see the genius of the writer's mind so phenomenally at work. Melbourne and the Australian language have never been so celebrated. I laughed and laughed, too.' Carmen Callil

'I couldn't believe I was so caught by the throat by a story about malware and cyberspace and sabotage . . . but it's also about a dark stain of political history, about a mother and daughter, about power and brutality, about being young and furious. I thought Felix Moore in all his humanness, messiness and determination, was a masterpiece of character-making.' Hermione Lee


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Does not live up to the blurb

By Hey - you!

from Lake Tyers Beach, Vic

About Me Bookworm



    • Difficult To Follow
    • Disappointing

    Best Uses

    • Cluttering Your Bookshelf

    Comments about Amnesia:

    This is really about a worn out, drunken hack and his inability to understand the modern world. The by-story, which is used to add a little interest to the plot is thin. The inclusion of political facts known to most adults in Australia is just padding. I would not recommend that anyone waste their time and sanity on this publication.

    Comment on this review

    It was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22.00 Greenwich Mean Time when a worm entered the computerised control systems of countless Australian prisons and released the locks in many other places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed. Because Australian prison security was, in the year 2010, mostly designed and sold by American corporations the worm immediately infected 117 US federal correctional facilities, 1700 prisons, and over 3000 county jails. Wherever it went, it travelled underground, in darkness, like a bushfire burning in the roots of trees. Reaching its destinations it announced itself: THE CORPORATION IS UNDER OUR CONTROL. THE ANGEL DECLARES YOU FREE.

    This message and others more elaborate were read, in English, by warders in Texas, contractors in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, in immigrant detention camps in Australia, in Woomera, black sites in the Kimberley, secret centres of rendition at the American 'signals facility' near Alice Springs. Sometimes prisoners escaped. Sometimes they were shot and killed. Bewildered Afghans and Filipinos, an Indonesian teenager wounded by gunfire, a British Muslim dying of dehydration, all these previously unknown individuals were seen on public television, wandering on outback roads.

    The security monitors in Sydney's Villawood facility read: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD BY NIGHT OPENED THE PRISON DOORS, AND BROUGHT THEM FORTH. My former colleagues asked, what does this language tell us about the perpetrator?

    I didn't give a toss. I was grateful for a story big enough to push me off the front pages where I had already suffered PANTS ON FIRE. I was spending my days in the Supreme Court of New South Wales paying Nigel Willis QC $500 an hour so I could be sued for defamation. Nigel's 'billable hours' continued to accrue well past the stage when it became clear that he was a fuckwit and I didn't have a chance in hell, but cheer up mate: he was betting 3:2 on a successful appeal. That my barrister also owned a racehorse was not the point.

    Meanwhile there was not much for me to do but read the papers. FEDS NOW SAY ANGEL IS AN AUSSIE WORM.

    'Would the defendant like to tell the court why he is reading a newspaper.'

    'I am a journalist, m'lud. It is my trade.'

    Attention was then brought to the state of my tweed jacket. Ha-ha, m'lud. When the court had had its joke, we adjourned for lunch and I, being unaccompanied on that particular day, took my famously shambolic self across to the botanic gardens where I read the Daily Telegraph. Down by the rose gardens amongst the horseshit fertiliser, I learned that the terrorist who had been 'obviously' a male Christian fundamentalist had now become the daughter of a Melbourne actress. The traitor appeared very pale and much younger than her thirty years. Dick Connolly got the photo credit but his editor had photoshopped her for in real life she would turn out to be a solid little thing whose legs were strong and sturdy, not at all like the waif in the Telegraph. She was from Coburg, in the north of Melbourne, a flat, forgotten industrial suburb coincidentally once the site of Pentridge Prison. She came to her own arraignment in a black hoodie, slouching, presumably to hide the fact that our first homegrown terrorist had a beautiful face.

    Angel was her handle. Gaby was her name in what I have learned is 'meat world'. She was charged as Gabrielle Baillieux and I had known her parents long ago – her mother was the actress Celine Baillieux, her father Sando Quinn, a Labor member of parliament.

    I returned to my own court depressed, not by the outcome of my case, which was preordained, but by the realisation that my life in journalism was being destroyed at the time I might have expected my moment in the sun.

    I had published several books, fifty features, a thousand columns, mainly concerned with the traumatic injury done to my country by our American allies in 1975. While my colleagues leapt to the conclusion that the hacker was concerned simply with freeing boat people from Australian custody, I took the same view as our American allies, that this was an attack on the United States. It was clear to me, straight away, that the events of 1975 had been a first act in this tragedy and that the Angel Worm was a retaliation. If Washington was right, this was the story I had spent my life preparing for. If the 'events of 1975' seem confusing or enigmatic to you, then that is exactly my point. They are all part of 'The Great Amnesia'. More TC.

    In court, I listened as my publisher got a belting from the judge and I saw his face when he finally understood he could not even sell my book as remaindered.

    'Pulp?' he said.

    'Including that copy in your hand.'

    Damages were awarded against me for $120,000. Was I insured or not insured? I did not know.

    The crowd outside the court was as happy as a hanging day.

    'Feels, Feels,' the News International guy shouted. 'Look this way. Felix.'

    That was Kev Dawson, a cautious little prick who made his living rewriting press releases.

    'Look this way Feels.'

    'What do you think about the verdict, Feels?'

    What I thought was: our sole remaining left-wing journalist had been pissed on from a mighty height. And what was my crime? Repeating press releases? No, I had reported a rumour. In the world of grown-ups a rumour is as much a 'fact' as smoke. To omit the smoke is to fail to communicate the threat in the landscape.

    In the Supreme Court of New South Wales this was defamation.

    'What next, Felix?'

    Rob a bank? Shoot myself? Certainly, no-one would give me the Angel story although I was better equipped (Wired magazine take note) to write it than any of the clever children who would be hired to do the job. But I was, as the judge had been pleased to point out, no longer employable in 'your former trade'. I had been a leader writer, a columnist, a so-called investigative reporter. I had inhabited the Canberra Press Gallery where my 'rumours' had a little power. I think Alan Ramsey may have even liked me. For a short period in the mid-seventies, I was host of Drivetime Radio on the ABC.

    I was an aging breadwinner with a ridiculous mortgage. I had therefore been a screenwriter and a weekend novelist. I had written both history and political satire, thrillers, investigative crime. The screen adaptation of my novel Barbie and the Deadheads was workshopped at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute.

    But through this, even while bowing and scraping to get 'seed money' from the Australian Film Commission, I remained a socialist and a servant of the truth. I had been sued ninety-eight times before they brought me down with this one, and along the way I had exposed the deeds of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch (both Old Geelong Grammarians, btw) always a very dangerous occupation for a family man, and apparently terrifying for those who rely on him for succour. As the doors of the mainstream media closed to anyone unworldly enough to write the truth, I still published 'Lo-tech Blog', a newsletter printed on acid paper which was read by the entire Canberra Press Gallery and all of parliament besides. Don't ask how we paid our electricity bill.

    I worked as a journalist in a country where the flow of information was controlled by three corporations. Their ability to manipulate the 'truth' made the right to vote largely meaningless, but I was a journalist. I did my best. In 'Lo-tech Blog', I revealed the Australian press's cowardly reporting of the government lies about the refugees aboard the ill-fated Oolong.

    'I can't comprehend how genuine refugees would throw their children overboard,' said our Prime Minister.

    Once again, like 1975, here was a lie of Goebbelsesque immensity. The fourth estate made a whole country believe the refugees were animals and swine. Many think so still.

    Yet the refugees belonged here. They would have been at home with the best of us. We have a history of courage and endurance, of inventiveness in the face of isolation and mortal threat. At the same time, alas, we have displayed this awful level of cowardice, brown-nosing, criminality, mediocrity and nest-feathering.

    I was overweight and out of breath but I was proud to be sued, reviled, scorned, to be called a loser by the rewriters of press releases. I took comfort from it, which was just as well because there was comfort nowhere else. As would be confirmed in the weeks ahead, none of my old mates were going to rescue me from the slow soul-destroying grind of unemployment.
    Peter Carey

    Peter Carey was born in Australia in 1943.

    He was educated at the local state school until the age of eleven and then became a boarder at Geelong Grammar School. He was a student there between 1954 and 1960 — after Rupert Murdoch had graduated and before Prince Charles arrived.

    In 1961 he studied science for a single unsuccessful year at Monash University. He was then employed by an advertising agency where he began to receive his literary education, meeting Faulkner, Joyce, Kerouac and other writers he had previously been unaware of. He was nineteen.

    For the next thirteen years he wrote fiction at night and weekends, working in many advertising agencies in Melbourne, London and Sydney.

    After four novels had been written and rejected The Fat Man in History — a short story collection — was published in 1974. This slim book made him an overnight success.

    From 1976 Carey worked one week a month for Grey Advertising, then, in 1981 he established a small business where his generous partner required him to work only two afternoons a week. Thus between 1976 and 1990, he was able to pursue literature obsessively. It was during this period that he wrote War Crimes, Bliss, Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda. Illywhacker was short listed for the Booker Prize. Oscar and Lucinda won it. Uncomfortable with this success he began work on The Tax Inspector.

    In 1990 he moved to New York where he completed The Tax Inspector. He taught at NYU one night a week. Later he would have similar jobs at Princeton, The New School and Barnard College. During these years he wrote The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, Jack Maggs, and True History of the Kelly Gang for which he won his second Booker Prize.

    In 2003 he joined Hunter College as the Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing. In the years since he has written My Life as a Fake, Theft, and His Illegal Self.

    He is at work on a new novel.


    1979 Miles Franklin Award (Australia) War Crimes
    1980 New South Wales Premier's Literary Award War Crimes
    1981 Miles Franklin Award (Australia) Bliss
    1982 National Book Council Award (Australia) Bliss
    1982 New South Wales Premier's Literary Award Bliss
    1985 Australian Film Institute (Best Adapted Screenplay) Bliss
    1985 Australian Film Institute (Best Film) Bliss
    1985 Book Council Award (Australia) Illywhacker
    1985 Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist) Illywhacker
    1985 The Age Book of the Year Award Illywhacker
    1986 Ditmar Award for Best Australian Science Fiction Novel Illywhacker
    1986 Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction Illywhacker
    1986 Victorian Premier's Literary Award (Australia) Illywhacker
    1986 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (shortlist) Illywhacker
    1988 Book Council Award (Australia) Oscar and Lucinda
    1988 Booker Prize for Fiction Oscar and Lucinda
    1989 Miles Franklin Award (Australia) Oscar and Lucinda
    1994 The Age Book of the Year Award The Unusual Life of Tristran Smith
    1997 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) (shortlist) Jack Maggs
    1997 The Age Book of the Year Award Jack Maggs
    1998 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book) Jack Maggs
    1998 Miles Franklin Award (Australia) Jack Maggs
    2001 Booker Prize for Fiction True History of the Kelly Gang
    2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book) True History of the Kelly Gang
    2001 Miles Franklin Award (Australia) (shortlist) True History of the Kelly Gang
    2001 Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction True History of the Kelly Gang
    2007 Commonwealth Writers Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific
    Region, Best Book) (shortlist) Theft: A Love Story

    Click here to read a Paris Review interview with Peter Carey.

    Visit Peter Carey's Booktopia Author Page

    ISBN: 9781926428604
    ISBN-10: 1926428609
    Audience: General
    Format: Paperback
    Language: English
    Number Of Pages: 384
    Published: 14th October 2014
    Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.7  x 3.9
    Weight (kg): 23.5