Peter Carey’s latest novel Amnesia is an ambitious story negotiating a critical line between Australia and America in today’s technology-driven world. It follows down-and-out Australian journalist Felix Moore as he’s commissioned to write the sympathetic story of Gaby Baillieux: a hacker who has released a ‘bug’ into prison systems resulting in a political scramble to save her from being handed over to The States.
Amnesia reeks of post-modernism, from its cyber-freak fear-mongering to its dry, masculine voice and its almost comical scenes involving ‘poor Felix’. Felix takes on the task of telling Gaby’s story, and starts by hypothesizing about the women deep in her past; Carey makes us go so far back that it becomes irrelevant.
That’s the main problem with Amnesia as a whole: much of the book is irrelevant in regards to what Carey is attempting to achieve. It’s made clear in the blurb that Carey is exploring Australian/American political relations in light of ‘cyber warfare’. But what follows is a man writing a book about a man writing a book.
Gaby herself doesn’t properly appear in the novel until half-way through, and when she finally steps on to the page the story is suddenly lifted with an edgy and youthful voice, a contemporary woman who claims to be the first female hacker. Alas, she doesn’t stay for long.
Carey artfully weaves Gaby’s voice with her mother’s, each telling the same story from different perspectives while Felix intermittently steps in and struggles to play catch-up, trying to write history while it’s happening. This is the highlight of the novel, and unfortunately, Carey doesn’t satisfy. He keeps Gaby at a distance, letting her tell her own story in her own words but not enough to explore anything that is described in the blurb of the book.
What Carey manages to do well, is write an intriguing voice in Gaby (albeit splashed with cringe-inducing outdated phrases like ‘freakazoid’) and to capture the concept of metanarrative: Felix represents the persona of the writer, negotiating between fact and story to craft something creative while questioning the truth and becoming lost somewhere in the thick of it.
While there are some fantastic lines, some moments of great character and some very rich settings, Amnesia attempts too much by setting up a ‘Battle of Brisbane’ metaphor and failing to let Australia and America really butt heads. His aim is as clear as the red, white and blue interior covers of the book. And yet the story misses the mark by a great margin by distracting the reader from Gaby’s intriguing cyber-feminism speckled story in lieu of a dull journalist with self-victimising ego-issues.
Amnesia was published by Knopf in January 2015. It’s available now.