Peter Carey is perhaps Australia’s most popular and accomplished author. A Long Way from Home is his fourteenth novel and is notable for being the first time Carey is explicitly addressing his cultural and national colonial inheritance. And in his own words, it’s about time: “You wake up in the morning and you are the beneficiary of a genocide […] I’m an Australian author and I haven’t written about this? Well, that just seems pathetic to me.”
A Long Way from Home opens in the early 1950s in Bacchus Marsh, the predominantly white, rural Australian town, where Carey himself grew up. We are introduced to our first narrator, Irene Bobs, a determined, headstrong woman who is married to Titch, the “best salesman in rural South Eastern Australia.” The young family move next door to their oddball neighbour, Willie Bachhuber, a disgraced schoolteacher with some dark secrets. Together they decide to enter the Redex Around Australia Reliability Test, a motor race around the continent that tests the survival skills of both car and driver.
A Long Way from Home takes its time to unfold – it takes until the second section to really kick off – but when it does Carey is on fine form. The descriptions of car racing are truly breath-taking as Irene leads her car around swerving and dusty outback dirt roads. Carey uses the race and Willy’s navigational skills to map Australia’s colonial past as the landscape throbs with the country’s dark history.
A Long Way from Home is as funny as it is tragic and strange. At times the novel’s competing tones threaten to undo one another, and in the hands of a more inexperienced writer, perhaps they would. However, this is two-time Man Booker winner, Peter Carey, and he is at the height of his abilities. The narratives, characters, and themes weave together magnificently to create Carey’s most humorous, dark, and entertaining novel in a long time.
A Long Way from Home is available now, published by Faber & Faber.