Two-time Man Booker Prize winner (Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang) Peter Carey’s 13th novel is a darkly satiric tale of cyber activism, modern Australian history and the exhilaration and perils of advocacy journalism.
Facing financial ruin after a six-figure defamation judgment, Sydney journalist Felix Moore, “a socialist and a servant of the truth,” is recruited by an eccentric real estate developer to tell the story of Gaby Baillieux. This young hacker, known as “Angel,” has launched a computer worm that simultaneously freed thousands of prisoners in Australia and the United States. Apart from his need for quick cash, Felix’s willingness to take on the project is fueled by his own political inclinations.
The first third of the novel is narrated in Felix’s lively, cynical voice as he describes how he’s been placed in a “privileged role where I might be both a witness and participant in a new type of warfare where the weapons of individuals could equal those of nation states.” From there, Carey shifts to the third person, as Felix, spirited away to an isolated location, wrestles with the challenge of turning the tape-recorded recollections of two unreliable narrators—Gaby and her mother Celine, an actress and wife of a member of Australia’s Parliament—into a serviceable work.
Carey, who reportedly turned down an offer to ghostwrite the memoir of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, infuses the novel with a distinct political perspective. Through Felix, he describes the events of 1975, when Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was deposed in what Carey suggests was a CIA-led coup provoked by Whitlam’s withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam. In another subplot, he describes the at times comic efforts of Gaby and her lover, Frederic Matovic, to thwart the activities of a chemical manufacturer they believe has introduced dioxin into Melbourne’s water supply.
Felix Moore and the other characters in Amnesia clearly believe we’re living in an age where “the enemy was not one nation state but a cloud of companies, corporations, contractors, statutory bodies whose survival meant the degradation of water, air, soil, life itself.” Even if you disagree, you still can enjoy this intricate and unusual story.