A Long Way from Home: A novel

by Peter Carey

Hardcover, 2018

Call number





Knopf (2018), Edition: 1st Edition, 336 pages

Media reviews

In reconstructing the race politics on which this nation is founded, Carey has created an important novel and a compelling read. The question that remains unanswered, however, is: is this his story to tell?

Library's review

Melbourne, Australia being my second home, I always love to read Peter Carey. This one does a good job of telling the story of 1950s era Oz, with an interesting take on the issues of Aboriginal relations and gender equality as they inform Australian identity. (Brian)

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
The main setting of A long way from home is - perversely enough - precisely where Carey grew up: Bacchus Marsh, Victoria in the early 1950s. Like Carey's parents, Irene and Titch Bobs are in the motor trade, and have a Holden dealership in Bacchus Marsh. As a publicity stunt to launch their new business, they take part in the Redex Challenge, an endurance competition which involves driving around the whole continent in a production car. When they discover that their neighbour, disgraced schoolteacher and professional quiz competitor Willie Bachhuber, has an astonishing affinity for maps, he gets roped in to the adventure as their navigator...

But this isn't your ordinary road novel with a bunch of colourful characters pitted against the elements, nor is it a remake of Voss with internal combustion engines - although you could probably read it either of those ways if you wanted to. As you might expect from Carey, he uses the framework of the journey to have a critical dig into the less attractive elements of Australian history, in particular this time looking at some of the many abuses suffered by Aboriginal Australians at the hands of white colonisers, notably the well-known scandal of the forced adoption (read: kidnapping) of mixed-race children. But he also brings out the lesser-known story of cultural resistance through the rewriting of colonial history from the Aboriginal side. All very interesting, and of course told with Carey's usual verve and humour.
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LibraryThing member JimElkins
The Mess Made by Mixing Politics and Storytelling

I usually do not read novels to learn about the world. But "A Long Way From Home" is explicitly about some truths of Aboriginal life and history. Carey gave several energetic interviews (one I heard on Irish radio in January 2018), speaking about how he had finally found a way to write about the obliviousness of his fellow White Australians. The book has been heralded as a brave and honest attempt to think what it was like -- and still is like -- for White Australians to continue not to notice what has been done to Aboriginal culture.

The entire first half of the book has nothing to do with that subject. There are in my count three very brief mentions of Aborigines in the first 161 pages of the book. Five pages later one of the narrators finds the skull of an Aboriginal child who has been murdered, and cries. Two pages after that (p. 168) is the first mention of racism.

As the book goes on, we are instructed on Aboriginal life, history, and culture. We're told about their antipathy to maps in a set-piece that allows Carey to say some very general things about Aboriginal sense of the land. We're told about forcible relocation, we're given names and documents (including A.P. Elkin, the assimilationist), we're told about Ted Strehlow's underlying racism, about rapes and homicides by White ranchers and policemen, about the reasons fences disrupt Aboriginal life. For all this to work the obliviousness of the White characters has to be complete. When an Aborigine man finds that one of the characters has kept the infant's skull, he walks off in shock and anger, and the narrator muses, "Who knew this was personal to him?" (p. 217) When characters learn the truth, we're told so: "And of course I had finally seen that all Aboriginal culture was based on country," one character says, "they were exiles, denied the meaning of their lives." (p. 299)

When a novel aims so directly at confession, reparation, and education, I try to imagine its ideal reader. In this case that is depressing exercise, especially if I'm imagining an ideal Australian reader. I am sad to think that Carey probably judged this well enough, and there will be Australians who feel this novel taught them something, opened their eyes to something. To the extent that is true, it points to an obliviousness much deeper than anything that can be usefully addressed by a novel as superficial and abbreviated about its subject as this one is.

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But I don't read to find out about people, ethnicities, nationalities, or history. As a novel, this is weak. Carey fills the book with his kind of manic, kaleidoscopic narrative, whose principal strategies seem to be: never slow down, and pack each short paragraph with as much detail as possible. The relentless present of the narratives is repeatedly momentarily stalled by moments in past retrospective mood: "I didn't realize then that...." but those moments fleeting, like touches on the brakes. The narrators who think these thoughts plunge immediately back into their present.

This breakneck pace also runs across narrators: the book alternates chapters told from several points of view, but there's one style, one voice, one mood, even one way of making jokes and allusions, for all the characters. For me, the chapters putatively narrated by different people are obtrusively similar, as if Carey was intentionally writing against the basic advice of any writing workshop. (If you change narrators, change tone, change detail... change something.)

As in any 350 page novel by an experienced writer, there are moments that are quite good. For me the book's center is the (female) narrator's sense of her husband, whom she loves and admires, but who is hopelessly dependent on his sadistic father. When his father dies, he cries, because "there was nowhere left to hide his relentless secret love." (p. 178)

More could be said about that part of the narrative, but that would misrepresent a novel that is fundamentally not under its author's control. Carey wanted to write a serious, brave, well-researched novel about some Aboriginal experiences and about Australia's history, but he ended up with a book about a mid-century family in Melbourne, a famous road race, and a sprinkling of supposedly deeply revealing facts about Aboriginal culture. Maybe in the end this is what is interesting about "A Long Way From Home": not its history, not its facts, not the road race, not the principal characters, but the fact that even after a lifetime of writing novels, it can prove to be impossible to control the text.

There are many ways this novel could have regained control: the first half, in which Aborigines aren't mentioned, could have dramatized and dwelled on that absence; the first half could have been cut, in order to spend time on one of Carey's original ideas (as he said in an interview), the race around the continent; the factual material on Aboriginal cultures could have been radically expanded, as William Vollmann has done; or it could have been truncated, so that the book lectured less and hinted at more. But it isn't any of those things: it's the mess it was in the author's mind.
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LibraryThing member siri51
Lots of stuff going on in this story - the 1954 Redex trial, complicated marital relationships, the navigator with an identity crises; thought he was of German descent but turns out he is aboriginal.
LibraryThing member elimatta
If you’d like to understand Australia, and colonialsim generally, start here.
LibraryThing member abanmally
This book was a challenge to read but worth the trouble. The POV switches back and forth from the main character, Irene Bobs to her neighbor Willie Bachhuber each chapter, but it was off-putting with no indication at the start of the chapter. All of the prose seems to blend together into Australian slang and I had to re-read multiple pages to catch the plot. The publisher has the tagline as "a world every American will recognize" but it is firmly an Australian book.

However, the 1950's post-WWII Australia that Carey paints is the novel's greatest strength. 'A Long Way from Home' dives deep into Australian history-- the Redex Trial was a real event and the Bobs' goal to put themselves on the map and bring along their map-savvy neighbor feels silly but genuine. The description of Aboriginal life and their treatment by the government pulls few punches and is entirely based on fact. The white-washed, fenced-in Australia that we see with the Bobs is pulled further and further back as they drive into Aboriginal territory.

Carey's 'A Long Way from Home' is not an easy read in both style and content. But it proves to be a worthwhile journey.

I received this e-book for free from First to Read and Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member lilibrarian
Irene and Tisch Bobs love fast cars. In 1954, they decide to enter the Redix Trial - a competition to circumnavigate Australia - which they hope to win and use to publicize their new car dealership. As navigator, they bring their neighbor Willie Bachhuber, who has his own checkered history, some of which will be revealed in the course of the competition and be a surprise even to him.… (more)
LibraryThing member SandraBrower
A Long Way From Home is a long and bumpy ride courtesy of the Redex Race in Australia all the while exploring the tensions of Australia's racial tension between the white people and the aborigines. We get a taste of the traumatic history surrounding the Aboriginal people when Mrs. Bob's happens upon a mass gravesite and finds a child's skull, and when William Bauchuber is abducted happenstance-ly while navigating for Mr. and Mrs. Bobs, all from Baccus Marsh, while running the Redex Race. He is deposited on a ranch that needs a school teacher and interestingly finds out about his own life to boot.

The book is filled with broadly unique, quirky characters that sometimes while reading the book I wanted more about one or more of the characters for more pages in the chapter, instead of jumping around chapter to chapter trying to figure out within the first few sentences who the story for that chapter is about, which is like trying to spin your tires out of the mud. I would've loved a little more from Mrs. Bob's history before Mr. Bob's comes into the picture.

Mrs. Bobs is a strong, spirited woman who wished she was my next door neighbor. The adventures we could have would be always fun.

I truly enjoyed the story and its humorist take on road races. I learned a lot about Australia's countryside and cities I had never heard of until this book. This story by Peter Carey which he has written like a love story to his country was lyrically told the last few chapters where the story
seemed to stall like a car when the radiator overheats and then sputters dead in the desert.
I give this book 3.5 instead of 4 only because I took a half point off for the ending.

You can pre-order this book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or do as I do and buy from an Indie Bookstore.

I appreciate having the chance to read this before it was published. I know I will be reading more from Mr. Carey. Thanks, Penguin Books and First to Read for the opportunity to read, A Long Way From Home in lieu of my honest review.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
This was a nicely written, if a bit choppy sat times, tale of family, ethnicity, and overcoming hardship. A married couple, along with their neighbor, attempt a car race known as the Red-Ex. Traveling the circumference of Australia brings the unexpected, dangerous terrain, and a myriad of obstacles, all of which comprise a metaphor for life struggles. Not my favorite from Peter Carey.… (more)
LibraryThing member Robert3167
A long Way From Home encompasses, as did the Redex Trial that runs through the book, all of Australia as it was in the 50's. Harsh, unforgiving, with a horrendous past still not properly acknowledged to this day.
Carey brilliantly captures the tone and speech patterns of the Australia in the 1950's.
There are so many themes Carey covers that listing them would only provide a glimpse of how powerful this novel is.
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