Carey returns to his native Australia, the setting of his two Booker-winning novels (Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001), for this busy, history-soaked study of politics, family and computer hacking.
Felix, the hero and occasional narrator of Carey’s 13th novel, is a legendary journalist who’s recently been disgraced in a libel trial. To redeem himself (and pay off his fines), he falls back into the orbit of a wealthy and politically powerful friend, who has a job for him: Write the life story of Gaby, a young woman accused of releasing a computer virus that freed inmates in almost 5000 U.S. prisons and jails. Felix was college friends with Gaby’s mother, Celine, and he’s being steered to find Gaby innocent, quite forcefully so—over time he’ll be sequestered in a remote hut and motel room with nothing but a typewriter and tapes of Gaby and Celine’s conversations to keep him company. That’s the novel’s spine, but it’s forced to bear the weight of a lot of back story, including musings on the CIA’s involvement in the disruption of Australia’s scandal-ridden government in 1975; the U.S. soldier and serial rapist who impregnated Celine’s mother; and Gaby’s awkward adolescence in the late '80s, when she fell for a young man who taught her the ways of hacking, which led to some muckraking of a local polluter. As the title suggests, Carey is interested in the ways that we forget about the darker but influential moments in our lives, often deliberately. It’s a provocative theme, and Felix’s seen-it-all tone gives the political scenes an appealingly hard-nosed, jagged mood. But the novel overall is baggy, shifting from coder-speak to blunt dialogue to reportage. History is a complicated web, Carey reminds us, but this one is particularly sticky.
A relatively forgettable entry in a top-shelf novelist’s oeuvre.