Mark Rubbo chats with Peter Carey
Our Managing Director Mark Rubbo chats with Man Booker prize winning author Peter Carey about his .
A large part of A Long Way from Home takes place during one of the famous round-Australia endurance races of the late 50s, commonly referred to as the Redex Trial. Your descriptions of this race have an authenticity to them that thrills. What kind of research did you undertake to make these scenes feel so vivid?
The answer, I’m afraid, is really boring. I made many international phone calls in the middle of the night. I read books, oral histories and magazine articles. I did this almost every day for two years. As I encountered the physical obstacles the drivers had faced I was, always, thinking how I could use them dramatically for my very particular characters. So the story was never driven by research but rather, by the human dilemmas of my characters. And of course I drew on the resources of my family – my brother Paul taught me how to disassemble a 1953 Holden air cleaner by email. Then, as usual, I made stuff up.
Bacchus Marsh has featured in a number of your books including this one. What is it that draws you back to this particular place so often?
Because it’s there. Because I lived there every day for the first 10 years of my life. Because there is never a trip back home to Australia when I don’t visit. And because it is fun and my sister gets a kick out of seeing our unglamorous quotidian place names (Parwan, Maddingley, Lerderderg Street) in works of literature.
Cars and car dealerships is another common thread in this book and some of your others. Why do you think this is?
I was born into a car dealership. If I had been the youngest child, my life would have been spent in PS Carey Motors. If my parents had been bakers instead my fiction would doubtless have been filled with buns and vanilla slices and dead blow flies. Just the same, it’s still a shock to remember how we once worshipped the machine that is contributing to the end of life on earth: the internal combustion engine. (For more elaborate thoughts on this, see my earlier novel, The Chemistry of Tears.)
I found the language in the early section of A Long Way from Home very playful – such as in the description of the six o’clock swill as the ‘wobbly hour’ or the cheeky way you describe Irene Bobs’s driving method. The playfulness of these moments feels so effortless on the page. Are they as fun to write as they appear, or is it hard work?
It’s fun. The ‘wobbly hour’ is made up, but based on that gorgeous authentic expression: ‘Dad’s got his wobbly boots on’.
The tone of this novel shifts dramatically once one of the central characters, Willie Bachhuber, meets with some indigenous Australians and is compelled to reconsider his understanding of history. What made you decide to write this particular story?
A Long Way from Home is a story about two sets of maps: whitefella maps such as were physically defined by the Redex Trial, and the ancient religious blackfella storylines which the cars drove through unknowingly. It is from this single idea that I developed the characters – their histories, their characters, their ignorance and even a little wisdom.
The Australian describes A Long Way from Home as a ‘domestic drama on wheels, an inquiry into the metaphysics of race, and an antic vehicle for Carey’s inimitable and lacerating wit’. Would you agree with this summation? What were you hoping to achieve with this novel?
What am I trying to achieve? How about, a laugh a minute all the way into the heart of darkness? A longer answer may be more appropriate but I am sitting in the back seat, typing with my nose…