Brillo tales for kids

BOOKS COLLECTED STORIES by Peter Carey, Faber pounds 14.99 THE BIG BAZO OHLEY by Peter Carey, Faber pounds 9.99
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
TRAWLING through the mess and waste achieved by late 20th- century consumer culture, these bleak, bitter stories compose a portrait of their author as a moralist with a sense of humour, a surrealist interested in naturalism, an urban poet delighting in paradox. Combining his two early collections, The Fat Man in History and Bliss, they seem very much a young man's work, uncompromising and fierce, lacking emotional warmth as though it might be dangerous. They're cool stories. Stories about men being cool in cities in the face of devastation and decay. It's quite a shock to read them after the mellowness and humanity of Oscar and Lucinda, Carey's 1988 Booker winner, which allowed an exploration of love to co-exist with an investigation into gambling and technology. In these short pieces, masculine alienation underpins the critique of an amoral society.

The stories nudge science fiction norms with their careful craziness and dystopic harshness. A car-mad youth called Crabs, in the story of that name, discovers that a drive-in cinema is also a car cemetery, a prison camp, and, ultimately, a kind of heaven. The narrator of "Life & Death in the South Pavilion" meditates on the logic of his discovery that "every time I make love a horse falls into the pool. Every time I fuck Marie I kill a horse." There's no way out of that one, so the story has to end there. Carey is keen on the impersonal horror of nightmare, which lets his narrators avoid obvious feeling, as in "Room No 5 (Escribo)": "It is likely Timoshenko is finally dying, in which case there may be a coup, or possibly none ... If Timoshenko dies they will rape you and shoot me. That is one possibility, have you considered it? I watch the spider as it crawls up your arm and say nothing." Emotion is evoked by abstract words, which emphasises the sense of control, distance.

The deadpan, seen-it-all narrative tone, supposed to evoke the terminal moral degradation of the villains and junkies in withdrawal, has interesting hiccups and stammers, where you start to hear the author's slang coming through: "Daphne was not a beautiful girl, although she had a striking body with very long legs and big tits which she displayed to their most incredible advantage ... She had, in a very few years, collected the most incredible array of lovers ... on that first, incredible night

Carey's understanding of parents and sons shines out in his delightful children's book The Big Bazoohley, his first excursion into this field. Let's hope it is not his last. The plot leaps along, fuelled by humour and compassion, and reveals its author's sharp eye for the idiocies of adult behaviour and child-rearing practices. It is based on a child's classic wish to make everything turn out all right. The magic which converts the money worries of young Sam's parents into rip-roaring financial success turns out to be the boy's own intelligence, courage and willingness to take risks. The engaging story features some wonderfully horrible parents from hell, a snowy Toronto landscape, a posh hotel and a Perfecto Kiddo competition. The urban bad dreams of the early short stories are evoked here, but this time a child's grasp of reality, and his subversive imagination, are what ensure survival. A joyful lesson to learn.

Comments