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Bliss by Peter Carey

Bliss (original 1981; edition 1982)

by Peter Carey

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783811,764 (3.62)45
Authors:Peter Carey
Info:Picador (1982), Paperback, 281 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Australian, novel

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Bliss by Peter Carey (1981)



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During the first half of the book it might seem as if ‘Bliss’ were an ironic title since the equally ironically named protagonist, Harry Joy, believes the world he lives in is really Hell and that many of the people are Actors, testing and tormenting him. It might seem difficult to have much time for this bizarre notion, especially as Harry has come to it after thinking that he has had a glimpse of Hell between dying and being revived but events in this part of the book are certainly of an infernal nature and not just part of Harry’s paranoia. We find Bettina, his wife is unfaithful, his son and daughter have an incestuous relationship, his son sells hard drugs, his company promotes carcinogenic products, the police brutally beat up Harry and he is wrongly commited to a mental institution where he is robbed of his identity and callously treated.

Listed as such, it would be expected that the tone of the book would be sombre to say the least, but there’s a humour, even a farcical element in it which takes the edge off the sombreness. So we have to smile when Harry’s baby Fiat is sat on by an elephant and we smile again at the way Harry is snagged by the seat of his pants when he falls out of his tree after spying on the secrets of his family and has to rely on them to get him down. The other ray of light is more substantial and does not depend on Carey’s juxtapositioning of dark and comic. We find optimism in Harry’s increasing awareness of himself and the world he lives in even if he does think it’s Hell. He is no longer the genial and successful but shallow advertising executive but a more discerning person who, turning to Honey Barbara, begins his transformation into a more caring and enlightened man, despite an otherwise increasing bleakness in the book.

This bleakness, via the cancer epidemic, signals a world in its death throes coming ‘at a time of deep recession, material shortages, unemployment and threatening nuclear war, and it proved itself the last straw for the West which had, until then, managed to tie its broken pieces together with cotton threads of material optimism’. This reminds me of Ken and Lucy whose resigned acceptance of the end of the world is similarly depressing: ‘We are the first people to come to the end of time,’ Lucy says. ‘Enjoy it. It’s incredible. The sunsets wouldn’t look so beautiful if there wasn’t all this shit in the air.’ Although our world has different problems from Carey’s of forty odd years ago, the book’s bleak outlook on the future of the world resonates all the more for me in a world neglecting what our abused climate is going to do to all of us. ( )
  evening | Sep 9, 2014 |
Huh. Though I honestly didn't go into this with clear expectations, character or plot-wise, apart from the fact that it sounded interesting and odd, I'll admit that this went places I wouldn't have expected. Not bad places--well, at least not for the reader. ( )
  -sunny- | Jul 15, 2014 |
To be re-read prior to comment.
  Scribble.Orca | Mar 31, 2013 |
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. ( )
  edgeworth | Jan 9, 2012 |
I just could not get in to this - maybe I missed a trick and should try again another day ( )
  TpJay | Apr 24, 2011 |
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Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him, and it is this first death which we shall now witness.
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Bliss is a masterpiece of illusion that marked Peter Carey's brilliant debut as a novelist, and was later made into an award winning film. The dilemma of Harry Joy is both funny and terrifying, for Harry wakes up in Hell, tortured by those he loves, and by the dreams and nightmares he once created for profit. Bliss is a shimmering delight - an acrobatic display of language, character and plot.… (more)

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