Bliss by Peter Carey (Faber, £6.50).
AUSTRALIAN Peter Carey has written his first novel — rich and rare. Here again there is a metaphysical theme, but this is a much more complex and elaborate book with a conglomeration of styles and genres which may leave the reader with slight indigestion. Once more we have a solitary man, Harry Joy, — note the pun in the title — searching for his identity.
Peter Carey shows his hand early in the book with a confidential approach to the reader and we are not allowed to escape from the presence of the author. The thread of fantasy is loosely woven into the fabric of realism as the writer describes, with the detail of dislike, modern city life in Australia. We enter into the rat-race of the advertising business, the drug-scene, the materialism of that society and its heartlessness, Harry Joy sees it as Hell. He has died clinically for nine minutes and been resuscitated to be faced with the dark side of the world — 'for this is Hell nor are we out of it The conviction that he is surrounded by people who are either fellow-sufferers. torturers or actors, leads him into weird and shocking situations not least into a hideous mentalhospital where he almost loses his identity as well as his mind. All his family and former friends become alienated as he sees, like Kay in the Snow Queen, the evil side of their personalities and behaviour.
He is rescued by his mistress, Honey Barbara. a hippy-like child of nature. "For the rest of his life he would remember the night when Honey Barbara drove out his devil. Then he thought it was gone for good and she was the rain on the roof, the trees he had never seen, the river he had never tasted".
The perceptive descriptions of people and places are brilliantly managed, the flash-back (and forth) sequences less welldefined. The kaleidoscope of factual and fabulous is often hard to take and makes the reading occasionally laborious.
Australian mores, the uninhibited language and nowfamiliar explicit descriptions of sexual behaviour, may prove stumbling blocks, but the vivid style and undoubted originality will perhaps be compensatory.