Sunday, April 3, 2011

Australian Nobel Prize Candidates: Peter Carey

A two-time Booker Prize winner, Peter Carey is without doubt the best-known Australian writer living today. If the Booker, and if being a writer both bestselling and highly respected in literary terms, was tantamount to a stepping stone to a Nobel, Carey would be a shoo-in. Yet the Booker--given for a specific novel, limited to fiction, and, in its regular annual mode, to certain Anglophone countries--is a different kettle of fish from the Nobel, a prize given across genres and for an entire career. That, as we will see later on in this series, novelists never remotely mentioned for the Booker have been seen as Nobel contenders augured for a certain separation in the prizes' identities, as does the aforementioned incident of the lost 1970 Booker not going to the one writer who 'subsequently' won the Nobel, Patrick White.
    Carey is both a delightfully entertaining writer and a profoundly serious one. He has written on primary Australian national themes in Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda, and True History of the Kelly Gang while also taking on more abstract moral and aesthetic issues in Theft, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, and Parrot and Olivier in America, and been up to taking on Dickens's ghost in the surprisingly underrated Jack Maggs Carey (a book I have always loved teaching). He has also written nonfiction--travel and memoir rather than literary criticism--which always helps to round out a Nobel winner's profile. He would be a popular winner, someone like Mario Vargas Llosa, Orhan Pamuk, and (the only true Booker-Nobel convergence) J. M. Coetzee already widely appreciated in the literary world. And, like Vargas Llosa, who after a few indifferent books returned to form with La fiesta del chivo, Carey silenced any doubters with the magnificent Parrot and Olivier.
      What hurts Carey? Well, if the Swedish Academy has a prejudice against the US (which I myself think has been overrated) his residence in New York might; on the other hand it is a mark of transnationalism, and Nobels have recently gone to writers with splayed national identities (Gao Xingjian, Le Clezio, Müller) or at least writers known for spending time outside of their home country. He may also be too commercially successful, though Pamuk and Vargas Llosa again provide precedents of novelists who sold well yet never were considered anything but serious parts of the conversation. Not every book of Carey's has been outstanding, but this is true of Hemingway, Faulkner...and many other Nobel winners up to Vargas Llosa. He has to be considered a serious candidate.

1 comment:

  1. William Golding, V. S. Naipaul also won both Booker and Nobel...but it has been rare...but one suspects that prizes like the Booker, Griffin, IMPAC today are 'qualifiers' in the English-speaking world, it is hard for a writer to get a Nobel without having won one or at least bene nominated for one.