The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

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.”

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