You are here

Peter Carey's conscience

Peter Carey's conscience

Peter Carey, one of only four double Man Booker winners (alongside, J.G Farrell, J.M. Coetzee and Hilary Mantel), has a new novel out in January and writing A Long Way from Home has clearly put him on feisty form. The book tackles the legacy of colonialism in Australia and all that comes with it – indigenous dispossession, genocide, slavery and so on. Asked why he has avoided the topic until now (he is 74), he said that he suddenly realised that “It’s no good not engaging with something that you’ve been intrinsically involved in. You wake up in the morning and you are the beneficiary of a genocide.” So he asked himself: “I’m an Australian writer and I haven’t written about this? Well, that just seems pathetic to me.” Asked if he was worried about the current buzz-crime of cultural appropriation he noted simply, “It’s my job to take creative licence, and it’s my job also to imagine what it is to be ‘other’.”

“Other” is about right for the current Man Booker champion George Saunders's latest project. As one American newspaper put it: “Recently, George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards. And now he has a TV show about zombies!” The show is based on an early Saunders short story called Sea Oak in which a meek spinster called Bernie, who lives with her nephew and two lazy nieces, meets a grizzly end and comes back to take out her frustration on her hapless relatives. Bernie is played by Glenn Close and a trailer has just been running in the US to gauge audience reactions. If everything is positive Saunders himself is scheduled to write the script for the dark comedy.

The literary world has acquired a new phrase, “genre shame”, which describes those books you'd rather other people didn't know you read. An interesting piece by an Australian book lover breaks her genre shame into a series of categories. “In-flight fiction”, for example, is the sort of easy read for when “you're tired, can't string sentences together and want something that will help you survive boredom”. Then there are “School pick-up sensations” – that's chick lit or something steamy, “Basically, anything you have to stuff in your handbag, side-console, glovebox, or between the pages of a newspaper before the kids see it.” “Books we hide from visitors” is self-evident – volumes on embarrassing hobbies or physical ailments. Then the secretive “Things I’ll only read on my kindle”, because no-one can see the cover, and so on. Of course Man Booker volumes are above shame and reading them is a badge of pride – as long as they are actually read rather than just flaunted.

Congratulations are due to two of the 2017 Man Booker nominees, Jon McGregor and Kamila Shamsie. Both have just been nominated in the fiction section for the Costa Book Awards, which pitches novels, first novels, biography, poetry and children's books against one another in a multi-genre death match. The author who will emerge bloodied but unbowed will be announced on 30 January 2018.

Louise Dean, longlisted for the Man Booker in 2004 with Becoming Strangers, is also the founder of an online creative-writing course called Kritikme.com. In thinking about what makes a successful novel she and her students have come up with a formula called “The Five Fs” that appear in some shape or form in all the best fiction. The Fs are: “1 Flaw. The situation which accommodates the central character's fatal flaw or moral problem shows signs of no longer being tenable . . . it is shifting. 2. False hope. Your hero or heroine’s remedy seems to succeed . . . but fails terribly causing them serious damage or a reversal of fortune. 3. Flight. He or she runs from the situation and gets insight into their flaw, recognising their failing. 4. Fury. In deep, he or she rages against the hell around them. 5. Facing it. They emerge from the fight with deep acceptance of their mortal condition and reconciliation with their true universal nature, either in life or death.” It might be worth budding novelists adding these mental Five Fs to their nutritional five a day.