Bliss by Peter Carey (1981) 282p.

Peter Carey is one of the greatest living novelists, widely tipped to become both Australia’s next Nobel prize winner for literature and the first man to win three Booker prizes. In 2010 I read his second Booker-prize winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, and found it to be a good book that only grew stronger in my memory. So it seems like a good idea to read his entire canon.

Bliss is his first novel, following the unfortunate circumstances of Harry Joy, who has a heart attack one day and dies for nine minutes before being resuscitated. He comes back to find that his wife is cheating on him, his son is selling drugs and his advertising company has for years been promoting carcinogens. He believes himself to literally be in hell.

There’s a strange, semi-dreamlike feeling hanging over much of Bliss, as though you’re reading it through a clouded pane of glass. This is a stylistic choice; apparently many of Carey’s early works have an essence of magical realism to them. Certainly, Carey seems to draw inspiration from Borges and Marquez; South America is often mentioned, and the novel takes place in an unspecified tropical land which is probably Queensland, the prose thick with frangipani and jacarandas and banana trees.

I guess it’s a decent book. It’s the kind of novel that’s difficult to review, because I personally found it boring yet I know it’s objectively good. I still want to read more of Carey, and I own his next book, Illywhacker, but I may skip past that and read his Booker-winning Oscar and Lucinda or the intriguing Jack Maggs.

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