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The Fat Man In History (1993)

The Fat Man in History (1993)
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3.89 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0679743324 (ISBN13: 9780679743323)
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English
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vintage
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The Fat Man In History (1993)
The Fat Man In History (1993)

About book: As IfMany of the reviews of this fantastic collection of short stories mention the following comment by Peter Carey:"The trouble with academics is that they try too hard to understand these stories .... "They should relax. The stories are only about what they seem to be about. "They are, if you like, a collection of 'what if' stories. I took a dozen or so hypotheses and asked what would happen if ...."Try as I did to avoid citing this comment, it sums up the appeal of the collection perfectly.I love the expression "what if”, not to mention the German phrase, "als ob".I even started to mark every time I saw the word "if" in the book, to see what I might discover.Yet, the more I contemplated Carey’s comment, the more I appreciated how glib and potentially self-deprecating it is, in an almost typically Australian way.When anybody sits down and wonders whether and what if, they are effectively utilizing their imagination.So Carey was really just explaining the creative process in the simplest possible language he could conceive.His comment and his approach are at once both simple and profound.The Sweetest ManoeuvresThe closest literary analogies I can think of are Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Heinrich Böll and Franz Kafka.Peter Carey’s fiction was first published by University of Queensland Press. This was a happy coincidence for me, because it was based in my home city of Brisbane, even though I went to University in Canberra. The Publication Manager at UQP at the time, Craig Munro, was of particular interest to me, because he had written a biography of the politician P.R. (Inky) Stephenson, and my nickname since primary school had been "Inky". Peter Carey’s first work was somehow recognizable as Australia or parts of the world that Australians might visit. Yet, it was somehow also otherworldly (like "Mad Max"). This world was a product of the imagination. Isolated, insulated from the rest of the world, like the rest of us, Carey created a vivid world of his own.It was like an adolescent virgin male dreaming of what sex might be like. Your visions are almost better than the real thing:"He is on top of her and she, giggling and groaning, manoeuvres sweetly below him, reciting nursery rhymes with her arse."Unravelled Dreams and ShadowsAt the same time, as with your first sexual experience or first venture into the world, there was a real risk that it might all come undone. Even asleep, the narrator's head is filled with "unraveled dreams."In the story "Peeling", the male protagonist undresses a woman in his bedroom, until she is wearing nothing but an earring. She pleads with him to leave it in place, but he is compelled to use force:"It is not, it would appear, an earring at all, but a zip or catch of some sort. As I pull, her face, then her breasts, peel away. Horrified, I continue to pull, unable to stop, until I have stripped her of this unexpected layer."There are more layers to come, but you will have to discover them yourself. A Shadow of Your Future SelfJust as there are layers, there are boundaries, some self-imposed:"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."...during this summer she moved in with Eddie, and Eddie was frightened, flattered, and almost in love with her. "He felt like a man who's bought a racing car he's too frightened to drive fast.”Equally, we are plagued by our shadows:"…shadows are merely mirrors to the soul, and the man who stares into a shadow box sees only himself, and what beauty he finds there is his own beauty, and what despair he experiences is born of the poverty of the spirit.”Of Beauties and Mysteries One Can Only ImagineThis is the world within which Carey works. Only, he proceeds to manufacture one more shadow, the shadow cast by his own creativity:"…elusive, unsatisfactory, hinting at greater beauties and more profound mysteries that exist somewhere before the beginning and somewhere after the end."For an Australian, these beauties and mysteries might also exist somewhere other, somewhere more exotic, than Australia.When it was first published, this collection captivated me, as did, in a lesser way, the follow-up, "War Crimes."I never really warmed to Carey's first novel, "Bliss", or his subsequent novels. I never really gave them a chance though. I was too enthralled by my first love.I have to remedy this myopia. I have to make room for new loves.

The first five stories resonate the most, but there are many in this collection that will stay with me. Such is their conceptual ingenuity (and, hey, the execution isn't half bad either – Carey knows how to wring weight and implication out of the barest of sentences). While some of the themes border on the surreal side, most of these stories are propelled by pure universal human drama.The standouts for me were 'Do you love me?', 'The Chance' and the title story, 'Exotic Pleasures'. These three, I feel, represented a perfect marriage of high-end spec. fiction concepts and nuanced, true to life relationships. 'The Last Days of a Famous Mime' and 'Peeling' were taut and suggested a philosophical leaning lacking in the others, while 'War Crimes' and 'The Fat Men in History' were perfect bookends, representing similar, yet contrasting ends of the same spectrum.'A Windmill in the West' was the only real letdown. It wore out its premise early and degenerated into a frustrating dirge (though, to be fair to the damn thing, that was – in part – the point).I recently read Ian McEwan's 'First Love, Last Rites', a collection that shares a lot of similarities with this one. To Carey's credit, I actually got a lot more from this. While the prose styles and concepts are similar, the stories here are deeper, more convincing, and are more intellectually nourishing than a lot of McEwan's gimmicky early stuff tended to be.The only detractor – and I have this a lot with short story collections – is the lack of cohesion. There doesn't seem to be any grand intent; 'Exotic Pleasures' is a hodgepodge collection of quality work. With some focusing on character and some on concept, the end impression comes off a little scattered.
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Reviews
Kathleen Dixon
Peter Carey is undoubtedly an excellent author. From what I could find, I think this is the first publishing of his work (1974), and there's no sense of "quite good for a first effort" - each story is proof of accomplishment.The people in these stories aren't happy, but then nor would you be if you lived in the kind of dystopian societies that they do. But rather than the modern fashion of having ordinary people battling heroically against wrongs, Carey gives us people who are placid and worn down, who accept the way things are. This realism, set in stories that also have weird quirks, can make the reader wonder whether we would be any different. Who's to say?
Liz Polding
This is a disturbing book on many levels and in many ways. Visceral and dystopian, these little pieces of literary shrapnel each form their own world. Studies in madness, violence, social experimentation with a chilling disregard for human life and indeed humanity itself, where genetic engineering can create a new body for you, but not the one you choose, the one that chance gives you. The high price of pleasure, Machiavelli rewriting management theory so that the embezzling manager is not fired, but executed, his head on the fence pour encourager les autres.Like a lot of important works, this is not an easy read, but the style is as accessible as ever - I have read most of Peter Carey's work. I was reminded in places of China Mieville, only with a rather less pretentious vocabulary (an observation rather than a criticism as I like Mieville's work very much!). This is one of the most inventive books I have read in long time and although some of it made me wince, I couldn't look away from the unfolding stories. I would definitely recommend it, but you will need to brace yourself in places.
Helen Hagemann
Review by Helen HagemannThe Fat Man in History, first published in 1974 by UQP, is a collection of twelve short stories and the least well known of Carey’s work. The stories contain many aspects of Australian life, its landscape and people. The title story, The Fat Man in History, is about a group of rather large men who live in a share house, yet they are the “Fat Men Against the Revolution" (fat now being synonymous with reactionary). Peeling depicts the relationship of an older man imposing his sexual impulses on his upstairs neighbour, an abortionist and collector of dolls. “Peeling” is a simulacrum of ‘peeling an onion’ where the man strips down her body to reveal one of her bare, white painted dolls. American Dreams has a simple premise of a man building a wall around his property. It is also a satirical look at how townsfolk dream their American dreams. They watch American films at the Roxy, and dream, if not of America, then at least of becoming wealthy, owning modern houses, and big motor cars. Their hometown, it seems, is the least of their concern when it comes to their aspirations. On another level, however, the stories in this volume remain simply fantastical tales of seemingly foreign worlds and unlikely situations: ten years after its publication Carey said of the collection, "The trouble with academics is that they try too hard to understand these stories .... They should relax. The stories are only about what they seem to be about. They are, if you like, a collection of 'what if' stories. I took a dozen or so hypotheses and asked what would happen if ...." Peter Carey was born in 1943 in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria where his parents ran a car dealership. He worked in advertising and wrote fiction in his spare time. Four of his novels were rejected before his short story collection, The Fat Man In History, was published which made him an overnight success.He has won the Booker Prize twice, his first in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda, the second time in 2001 with The True History of the Kelly Gang. Carey has won the Miles Franklin Award three times and his latest books are Parrot and Olivier in America (2010) & The Chemistry of Tears (2012). Married for the third time, Carey has two sons and lives in New York.I have read his novels including Bliss, The Tax Inspector, Oscar & Lucinda and Jack Maggs, however I think his collection 'The Fat Man in History' was a superior read, a great page turner and probably because of all the stories quirky premise, believe it was way ahead of its time.Helen Hagemann (2012)
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