There was exciting news in publishing this week, a lot of it filtering from the wheeling and dealing at the London Book Fair. I’ll start with Peter Carey because he’s one of ours, and because I like him. His next novel, A Long Way from Home, will be published here in late October under the Penguin Random House imprint Hamish Hamilton. It will be released in Britain and the US next January. Carey has lived in New York for more than 25 years, but this is his firm preference, for his novels to come out at home first. He will return in November for a promotional tour.
A Long Way from Home shapes as a full-on Australian novel, a sweep of our history with a focus on race relations. It’s also a deeply personal one, as it opens in 1953 in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, where Carey grew up. It involves the Redex Trial, the car race around Australia. For the Bacchus Marsh locals who take part it becomes a drive into unknown territory that reveals hard truths about personal and national pasts.
“This is a novel I’ve spent all my life not knowing how to write, thinking that I couldn’t write it, until, at 73, I realised that I could,” Carey said when I got in touch. “If I also say that it explores what it means to be a white Australian I will, I hope, have left plenty to surprise you.”
The Australian setting means the book will be eligible for the Miles Franklin, which Carey has won three times, for his 1981 debut novel Bliss, Oscar and Lucinda in 1989 and Jack Maggs in 1998. Oscar and Lucinda also won the Booker Prize, as did True History of the Kelly Gang. So the new novel, Carey’s 14th, could also put him in the running for a record third Booker.
There may be stiff competition, though, with British author Hilary Mantel expected to deliver the final instalment of her Tudor trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which brought to life the Machiavellian Thomas Cromwell, won the Booker in 2009 and 2012 respectively. And there’s also a new novel coming from New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton, who at 28 became the youngest Booker winner in 2013 for The Luminaries. The new one is a contemporary psychological thriller with a Shakespearean title: Birnam Wood. It taps into a real estate trend that’s been in the news: rich Americans buying boltholes on the shaky isles. But the story is not one from an Air New Zealand in-flight magazine. In a remote part of NZ, “ultra-rich foreigners are building fortress-like mansions. The houses are stocked with weapons in preparation for an imminent global disaster.” A “ragtag group of quarrelling leftists”, known as Birnam Wood, run into an American billionaire, sparking a “tragic series of events”. Birnam Wood, of course, is the unmovable wood that moves towards and helps doom Macbeth, as the three witches suggested it might. A lot of people, including Ian McEwan, think John le Carre should have won the Booker ages ago. The 85-year-old espionage master, however, doesn’t enter literary prizes. If he’s ever going to change his mind on that let’s hope it’s for his next novel, A Legacy of Spies, which will see the return, after 25 years, of George Smiley. “Interweaving past with present, le Carre has spun a single plot as ingenious and thrilling as the two predecessors on which it looks back, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” runs the blurb from Penguin. The novel is due in September. Quote of the week: Speaking of the Booker, last week I chatted, at Sydney’s Gleebooks, with Scottish writer Graeme Macrae Burnet, shortlisted last year for His Bloody Project. He was full of quotable quotes, but I’ll go with this description of his writing process:
“I switch off my brain. I write what the characters say and do.”