A Long Way From Home dramatises a collision of two historiesby Josie Mitchell / February 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Peter Carey—two-time winner of the Booker Prize, a laurel shared only by Hilary Mantel and JM Coetzee—has written many books that interrogate the narratives of his native Australia. These range from his folkloric account of legendary outlaw Ned Kelly in True History of the Kelly Gang, to Amnesia’s conspiracy theories surrounding the government’s 1975 constitutional crisis. In 2006, the Paris Review asked Carey what tied his novels together: “the invention of my country” he suggested cagily, suspicious of the soundbite. It’s true, Carey consistently returns to Australia and its national mythologies in his fiction. And yet it is only with this, his 14th novel, that he approaches the subject of indigenous Australian culture and its suppression during colonisation.
A Long Way From Home begins in 1954, in the “lovely fertile valley” of Bacchus March, 33 miles from Melbourne. Titch Bobs and his plucky wife Irene hope to build their future around a successful car dealership. For this they need a reputation, and they intend to gain one by achieving the unthinkable—winning the “greatest Australian car race of the century,” the Redux Trial, an endurance run around the 10,000- mile perimeter of the country’s inhospitable terrain.
But what begins as a jolly old car race becomes a reckoning with Australia’s genocidal past, when they start to uncover remnants of not-too-distant atrocities: the Bobbseys navigate the Horror Stretch, where “families had been forced off cliffs, gunned down, babies brained with clubs.” Elsewhere, relieving herself by the side of the road, Irene stumbles, literally, on a small hill of human bones, including the calcified remains of a young boy.
Carey has said that he set out to write “a novel of two sets of maps; black maps and white maps”; this timely and important novel is a collision of these two cartographies, and a collision of two Australian histories.
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey is published by Faber, £17.99