3.5 2
by Peter Carey

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From the two-time Booker Prize winner: an exhilarating, exceedingly timely new novel--at once dark, suspenseful, and seriously funny--that journeys to the place where the cyber underworld collides with international power politics.

When Gaby Baillieux released the Angel Worm virus into Australia's prison system, hundreds of asylum seekers walked free. And…  See more details below


From the two-time Booker Prize winner: an exhilarating, exceedingly timely new novel--at once dark, suspenseful, and seriously funny--that journeys to the place where the cyber underworld collides with international power politics.

When Gaby Baillieux released the Angel Worm virus into Australia's prison system, hundreds of asylum seekers walked free. And because the Americans run the prisons--as they do so many parts of her country--the doors of some 5,000 jails in the US also opened. Was this a mistake, or a declaration of cyber war? What, if anything, does it have to do with the largely-forgotten Battle of Brisbane between American and Australian forces in 1942? Or with the CIA-influenced coup in Australia in 1975? Felix Moore--known to himself as "Australia's last serving left-wing journalist"--is determined to write Gaby's biography in order to find the answers, to save her, to save his career, and perhaps to save his country. But how to get Gaby to cooperate? Bringing together the world of hackers and radicals with the "special relationship" between the United States, the CIA, and Australia, Amnesia is Peter Carey at his best, a novel that speaks powerfully about our history but most urgently about our present.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From two-time Booker winner Carey comes this complex new novel, focusing on the author’s native Australia, but exploring themes of journalistic freedom and Internet ethics. At the center of the book is the young Australian Gabrielle Baillieux, who releases a virus called the Angel Worm in the computer system that controls the Australian prison system, releasing thousands of prisoners throughout Australia and, inadvertently, in the U.S. The move could be construed as an act of terrorism, a bold stroke in the fight for human rights, or just a geeky plan gone awry. Journalist Felix Moore is hired to write Gabrielle’s story sympathetically, to avoid her extradition. In the process, he spends time with her mother, the actress Celine Baillieux, whom he had previously known in college. Looking back through the two women’s lives, Felix also explores Australia’s history since WWII, confusing himself but also educating readers about the Land Down Under. Throughout the book, Carey’s cartwheeling prose and dazzling intellect can be challenging to keep up with, but the book is worth the effort. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“A rollicking tour-de-force.” —The Boston Globe

“Deeply engaging. . . . No other contemporary novelist is better able to mix farce with ferocity, or to better effect.” —The Guardian (London)

“Ambitious and urgent.” —New York magazine
“Carey is a master craftsman. . . . [Amnesia is] a work with the power to vibrate after we’ve closed the covers.” —The Plain Dealer

“Compelling, written with the vivid precision that marks Mr. Carey’s best work. It appears at first as though he might, like Thomas Pynchon in Bleeding Edge or Dave Eggers in The Circle, be attempting to recreate the constantly shifting virtual world in the fixed text of a novel. But humanity, not machinery, lies at the book’s heart.” —The Economist

“Peter Carey is no mean stylist. . . . His pages will always yield their pleasures. . . . You can pick any page at random and locate an energy that never seems to flag.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Nestled inside this brisk cyber caper is an aesthetically daring character study. . . . Carey imbues [the hacker’s] immersion in the world of coding and the Internet with a palpable, engrossing sense of joy and discovery.” —The New Yorker

“Explores journalistic freedom, the ethics of radicalism as practiced on the internet and other complex contemporary issues.” —The New York Daily News

“Visionary, fiercely smart, and illuminating, and timely. . . . In a literal and figurative way, it’s testimony. In all ways, Amnesia is hard to forget.” —The Buffalo News

“Fantastically brilliant, gripping and astonishing.” —Hermione Lee, author of Penelope Fitgerald and Edith Wharton

“Lyrical, profane, highly readable. . . . Blends conspiracy thriller, comic farce and an examination of contemporary hackers.” —Financial Times

“The story of WikiLeaks as if transmogrified by Dickens and turned into a thrilling fable for our post-Edward Snowden era. Written with forensic precision.” —Luke Harding, The Guardian

“Vividly and precisely evoke[d]. . . . The thrill, illicit and almost erotic, of the early possibilities of the internet is . . . beautifully delineated. . . . A techno-Bildungsroman welded into a meta-fictional conspiracy thriller.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)

“A witty and subversive account of three richly drawn eccentrics and Australia’s gradual capitulation to the blandly murderous corporate ethos.” —The Toronto Star

Amnesia is blunt and funny, brave and outspoken. . . . Entertaining, provocative. . . . If fiction can summon the now, this novel has.” —The Irish Times

“Peter Carey, like John le Carre, has an uncanny knack of timeliness. . . . The novel moves like wildfire. . . . Reconfigures life and times into provocative fictional form that we might better ponder who we are and what we might—or must—do next.” —Sydney Morning Herald

Library Journal
Delving into political activism and ecoterrorism, this literary mystery by two-time Man Booker Prize winner Carey starts off with the unleashing of a computer virus that opens prison doors in Australia and the United States. Gaby, the daughter of a politician and his actress wife, is identified as a suspect in the viral attack, and soon Felix Moore (a writer with his own political past) is commissioned by wealthy shadow figure Woody Townes to produce a book about her. Felix is promptly abducted and taken to a remote location, where he transcribes tape recordings of reminiscences by Gaby and her mother, which comprise the bulk of the novel. His efforts result in a work bearing the same title as the present novel, which when released on the Internet has far-reaching consequences. Looming large over all these events is the Australian Constitutional Crisis of 1975. VERDICT Intricate and well told, with compelling details of Australian political and social history, this book is nevertheless slow paced, with shifts in time and perspective complicating matters. In the end, the characters never really command the reader's sympathy enough to move beyond the political and environmental into human drama. [See Prepub Alert, 9/8/14.]—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Carey returns to his native Australia, the setting of his two Booker-winning novels (Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001), for this busy, history-soaked study of politics, family and computer hacking.Felix, the hero and occasional narrator of Carey's 13th novel, is a legendary journalist who's recently been disgraced in a libel trial. To redeem himself (and pay off his fines), he falls back into the orbit of a wealthy and politically powerful friend, who has a job for him: Write the life story of Gaby, a young woman accused of releasing a computer virus that freed inmates in almost 5000 U.S. prisons and jails. Felix was college friends with Gaby's mother, Celine, and he's being steered to find Gaby innocent, quite forcefully so—over time he'll be sequestered in a remote hut and motel room with nothing but a typewriter and tapes of Gaby and Celine's conversations to keep him company. That's the novel's spine, but it's forced to bear the weight of a lot of back story, including musings on the CIA's involvement in the disruption of Australia's scandal-ridden government in 1975; the U.S. soldier and serial rapist who impregnated Celine's mother; and Gaby's awkward adolescence in the late '80s, when she fell for a young man who taught her the ways of hacking, which led to some muckraking of a local polluter. As the title suggests, Carey is interested in the ways that we forget about the darker but influential moments in our lives, often deliberately. It's a provocative theme, and Felix's seen-it-all tone gives the political scenes an appealingly hard-nosed, jagged mood. But the novel overall is baggy, shifting from coder-speak to blunt dialogue to reportage. History is a complicated web, Carey reminds us, but this one is particularly sticky. A relatively forgettable entry in a top-shelf novelist's oeuvre.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Vintage International
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A Novel

By Peter Carey

Random House LLC

Copyright © 2015 Peter Carey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-385-35277-2



it was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22:00 Greenwich Mean Time when a worm entered the computerised control systems of countless Australian prisons and released the locks in many other places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed. Because Australian prison security was, in the year 2010, mostly designed and sold by American corporations the worm immediately infected 117 US federal correctional facilities, 1700 prisons, and over 3000 county jails. Wherever it went, it travelled underground, in darkness, like a bushfire burning in the roots of trees. Reaching its destinations it announced itself: THE CORPORATION IS UNDER OUR CONTROL. THE ANGEL DECLARES YOU FREE.

This message and others more elaborate were read, in English, by warders in Texas, contractors in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, in immigrant detention camps in Australia, in Woomera, black sites in the Kimberley, secret centres of rendition at the American "signals facility" near Alice Springs. Sometimes prisoners escaped. Sometimes they were shot and killed. Bewildered Afghans and Filipinos, an Indonesian teenager wounded by gunfire, a British Muslim dying of dehydration, all these previously unknown individuals were seen on public television, wandering on outback roads.

The security monitors in Sydney's Villawood facility read: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD BY NIGHT OPENED THE PRISON DOORS, AND BROUGHT THEM FORTH. My former colleagues asked, what does this language tell us about the perpetrator?

I didn't give a toss. I was grateful for a story big enough to push me off the front pages where I had already suffered PANTS ON FIRE. I was spending my days in the Supreme Court of New South Wales paying Nigel Willis QC $500 an hour so I could be sued for defamation. Nigel's "billable hours" continued to accrue well past the stage when it became clear that he was a fuckwit and I didn't have a chance in hell, but cheer up mate: he was betting 3:2 on a successful appeal. That my barrister also owned a racehorse was not the point.

Meanwhile there was not much for me to do but read the papers. FEDS NOW SAY ANGEL IS AN AUSSIE WORM.

"Would the defendant like to tell the court why he is reading a newspaper."

"I am a journalist, m'lud. It is my trade."

Attention was then brought to the state of my tweed jacket. Ha-ha, m'lud. When the court had had its joke, we adjourned for lunch and I, being unaccompanied on that particular day, took my famously shambolic self across to the botanic gardens where I read the Daily Telegraph. Down by the rose gardens amongst the horseshit fertiliser, I learned that the terrorist who had been "obviously" a male Christian fundamentalist had now become the daughter of a Melbourne actress. The traitor appeared very pale and much younger than her thirty years. Dick Connolly got the photo credit but his editor had photoshopped her for in real life she would turn out to be a solid little thing whose legs were strong and sturdy, not at all like the waif in the Telegraph. She was from Coburg, in the north of Melbourne, a flat, forgotten industrial suburb coincidentally once the site of Pentridge Prison. She came to her own arraignment in a black hoodie, slouching, presumably to hide the fact that our first homegrown terrorist had a beautiful face.

Angel was her handle. Gaby was her name in what I have learned is "meat world." She was charged as Gabrielle Baillieux and I had known her parents long ago—her mother was the actress Celine Baillieux, her father Sando Quinn, a Labor member of parliament.

I returned to my own court depressed, not by the outcome of my case, which was preordained, but by the realisation that my life in journalism was being destroyed at the time I might have expected my moment in the sun.

I had published several books, fifty features, a thousand columns, mainly concerned with the traumatic injury done to my country by our American allies in 1975. While my colleagues leapt to the conclusion that the hacker was concerned simply with freeing boat people from Australian custody, I took the same view as our American allies, that this was an attack on the United States. It was clear to me, straight away, that the events of 1975 had been a first act in this tragedy and that the Angel Worm was a retaliation. If Washington was right, this was the story I had spent my life preparing for. If the "events of 1975" seem confusing or enigmatic to you, then that is exactly my point. They are all part of "The Great Amnesia." More TC.

In court, I listened as my publisher got a belting from the judge and I saw his face when he finally understood he could not even sell my book as remaindered.

"Pulp?" he said.

"Including that copy in your hand."

Damages were awarded against me for $120,000. Was I insured or not insured? I did not know.

The crowd outside the court was as happy as a hanging day.

"Feels, Feels," the News International guy shouted. "Look this way. Felix."

That was Kev Dawson, a cautious little prick who made his living rewriting press releases.

"Look this way Feels."

"What do you think about the verdict, Feels?"

What I thought was: our sole remaining left-wing journalist had been pissed on from a mighty height. And what was my crime? Repeating press releases? No, I had reported a rumour. In the world of grown-ups a rumour is as much a "fact" as smoke. To omit the smoke is to fail to communicate the threat in the landscape.

In the Supreme Court of New South Wales this was defamation.

"What next, Felix?"

Rob a bank? Shoot myself? Certainly, no-one would give me the Angel story although I was better equipped (Wired magazine take note) to write it than any of the clever children who would be hired to do the job. But I was, as the judge had been pleased to point out, no longer employable in "your former trade." I had been a leader writer, a columnist, a so-called investigative reporter. I had inhabited the Canberra Press Gallery where my "rumours" had a little power. I think Alan Ramsey may have even liked me. For a short period in the mid-seventies, I was host of Drivetime Radio on the ABC.

I was an aging breadwinner with a ridiculous mortgage. I had therefore been a screenwriter and a weekend novelist. I had written both history and political satire, thrillers, investigative crime. The screen adaptation of my novel Barbie and the Deadheads was workshopped at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute.

But through this, even while bowing and scraping to get "seed money" from the Australian Film Commission, I remained a socialist and a servant of the truth. I had been sued ninety-eight times before they brought me down with this one, and along the way I had exposed the deeds of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch (both Old Geelong Grammarians, btw) always a very dangerous occupation for a family man, and apparently terrifying for those who rely on him for succour. As the doors of the mainstream media closed to anyone unworldly enough to write the truth, I still published "Lo-tech Blog," a newsletter printed on acid paper which was read by the entire Canberra Press Gallery and all of parliament besides. Don't ask how we paid our electricity bill.

I worked as a journalist in a country where the flow of information was controlled by three corporations. Their ability to manipulate the "truth" made the right to vote largely meaningless, but I was a journalist. I did my best. In "Lo-tech Blog," I revealed the Australian press's cowardly reporting of the government lies about the refugees aboard the ill-fated Oolong.

"I can't comprehend how genuine refugees would throw their children overboard," said our Prime Minister.

Once again, like 1975, here was a lie of Goebbelsesque immensity. The fourth estate made a whole country believe the refugees were animals and swine. Many think so still.

Yet the refugees belonged here. They would have been at home with the best of us. We have a history of courage and endurance, of inventiveness in the face of isolation and mortal threat. At the same time, alas, we have displayed this awful level of cowardice, brown-nosing, criminality, mediocrity and nest-feathering.

I was overweight and out of breath but I was proud to be sued, reviled, scorned, to be called a loser by the rewriters of press releases. I took comfort from it, which was just as well because there was comfort nowhere else. As would be confirmed in the weeks ahead, none of my old mates were going to rescue me from the slow soul-destroying grind of unemployment.


a five-star hotel might seem an unwise venue for a bedraggled outcast to lick his wounds but the Wentworth was favoured by my old mate Woody "Wodonga" Townes. My dearest friends all exhibit a passionate love of talk and drink, but of this often distinguished crowd it was Woody Townes who had the grit and guts. He had attended court every day although he had had to fly seven hundred kilometres from Melbourne. Any fight I had, he was always by my side. And when I had endured the whacking from the press I found him where I knew he would be, where he had waited on almost every gruesome afternoon, with his meaty body jammed into a small velvet chair in the so-called Garden Court. The moment he spotted me he began pouring champagne with his left hand. It was a distinctive pose: the heavy animal leg crossed against his shiny thigh, the right elbow held high to ward off the attentions of an eager waiter.

I considered my loyal friend's exposed white calves, his remarkable belt, his thick neck, the high colour in his cheeks and I thought, not for the first time, that it is Melbourne's talent to produce these extraordinary eighteenth-century figures. In a more contested space, life would compress them, but down south, at the Paris end of Collins Street, there was nothing to stop him expanding to occupy the frame. He was a Gillray engraving—indulgence, opinion, power.

By profession my mate was a "property developer" and I presumed he must be sometimes involved in the questionable dealings of his caste. My wife thought him a repulsive creature, but she never gave herself a chance to know him. He was both a rich man and a courageous soldier of the left. He was a reliable patron of unpopular causes and (although he was possibly tone deaf) Chairman of the South Bank Opera Company. He financially supported at least two atonal composers who would otherwise have had to teach high school. He had also bankrolled my own ill-fated play. Woody's language could be abusive. He did occasionally spoil his philanthropy by demanding repayment via small services, but he could be relied upon to physically and legally confront injustice. In a time when the Australian Labor Party was becoming filled with white-collar careerists straight from university, Woody was old-school—he did not fear the consequences of belief.

"Fuck them all," he said, and ground the champagne bottle down into the ice. That would be pretty much the content of our conversation, and three bottles later, after several rounds of fancy nibbles, he called for the bill, paid from a roll of fifties, got me into a taxi and gave me a Cabcharge voucher to sign at the other end.

"No surrender," he said, or words to that effect.

It was only a short drive across the Anzac Bridge to our house at Rozelle. Here the best part of my life awaited me, my wife, two daughters, but—in the narrow passageway of our slightly damp terrace house, there stood, by poisonous chance, five cardboard cartons of my book, maliciously delivered that very afternoon.

Were these for me to pulp myself?

Was this not hilarious, that my puce-faced publisher, with his big house in Pymble, had gone to the trouble and expense of having boxes sent to my humble door? I was laughing so much I barely managed to carry this burden through the house. Apparently my daughters saw me and cared so little for my distress that they went straight up to watch the Kardashians. Claire must have been there somewhere, but I didn't see her yet. I was much more occupied with enacting the court order.

I could never light a barbecue. I had no manual skills at all. It was my athletic Claire who handled the electric drill, not me.

Naturally I overcompensated with the firelighters. Did I really enclose a free firelighter in every book? Was that a joke? How would I know? It was not necessarily self-pitying and pathetic that I set my own books on fire, but it was certainly stupid or at least ill-informed to add a litre of petrol to those feeble flames. I was unprepared for the violent force, the great whoosh that lifted off my eyebrows and caught the lower limbs of our beloved jacaranda.

As the flames crawled from the branches to the second-floor extension, I should—people never cease insisting—have picked up the garden hose and put it out. Fine, but these dear friends did not see what I saw. I made my judgement. I chose human life before real estate. I rushed up the stairs and snatched the audience from the Kardashians. Yes, my babies were teenagers. Yes, they resisted, but here was no time for explanation and I had no choice but treat them roughly. Apparently I smelled "like a cross between a pub and a lawnmower." I rushed them out into the street and left them screaming.

I don't know what happened then, but somehow the next-door copywriter stole my girls and the Balmain fire brigade were soon pushing me aside, dragging their filthy hoses down our hall and Claire, my wife, my comfort, my lover, my friend was waiting for me.

The next bit should remain private from our kids. But I will never forget exactly what was said.


claire was clever, kind and funny. She slept with her nose just above the sheets like a little possum. She woke up smiling. She stripped a century of paint from the balustrades and waxed and oiled them until they glowed. She climbed on the roof during lightning storms to remove the leaves from the overflowing gutters. She canvassed door to door for the Leichhardt by-election. She was a Japanese-trained potter whose work was collected by museums but there was never a night when I came home from Canberra or Melbourne or a union pub in Sussex Street that she was not waiting to hear what had happened.

She was commonly regarded as a perfect mother while I was known to have been unfaithful or at least to have attempted it. I was said to be continually drunk and impatient with decent people whose politics I did not like. I was allegedly unemployable. It was thought I was a communist who did not have the intelligence to see that he had become historically irrelevant.

All day Claire ripped her strong square hands with gritty clay, from which human sacrifice she extracted long necks and tiny kissing lips. She cooked like the farmer's daughter that she was, leg of lamb, baked vegetables, proper gravy. But each night she devoured the life that I brought home. My darling was what is commonly called a political junkie—awful term—but I delivered what she wanted most. We had fun, for years and years. Yes, I developed a Canberra belly and was ashamed to jog. She, as everyone remarked, stayed neat and trim. She wore jeans and windcheaters and sneakers and cut her hair herself, eschewing "sexy" legs and teetering fuck-me heels. After the fire I learned that certain mates had wondered if she might be gay. Idiots. None of them had the slightest clue about our love life. We were tender maniacs in ways known only to ourselves. If not for debt we would be in bed today.

Some people are good at debt. We were bad at it, and only discovered it in the way people who get seasick learn of their weakness when the ship has left the shore. We were a journalist and a potter thinking they could send their kids to an expensive private school. You get the joke.

Earlier I described how I abandoned these children on the footpath. Abandoned? For God's sake, they were almost at the end of their investment curve. To listen to their conversation you would never dream that their parents were both third-generation socialists. Did they even remember their father toasting crumpets in the smoky fire? Can they hear their mother's lovely voice sing "Moreton Bay"?

I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and cursed Toongabbie
At all those settlements I've worked in chains
But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations of New South Wales
Of Moreton Bay I have found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails

She sang that to our little girls? You bet she did.


Excerpted from Amnesia by Peter Carey. Copyright © 2015 Peter Carey. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

PETER CAREY is the author of twelve previous novels and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he has lived in New York City for the past twenty years.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 7, 1943
Place of Birth:
Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia
Monash University (no degree)

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Amnesia: A novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PaulAllard More than 1 year ago
Investigative journalist looks into cybercrime A disgraced journalist tries to rebuild his life after a court case results in him ending up in debt, losing his wife, family and home. He takes on the task of writing a book about a cybercrime which freed prisoners in Australia and the USA. The characters that he encounters bring back memories of his past. A lot of the first half of the book deals with reminiscences about their common past. There are many references to politicians and political events in Australia with which I was not familiar but this didn’t detract much from the plot. I found the writing style not to my taste and did not really engage with the story nor the characters. Over halfway through, I decided that I was not enjoying reading Amnesia enough to see it through to the end and abandoned it. Apologies to the author therefore for not appreciating his work.