Bliss By Peter Carey

Peter Carey - An Australian Author, winner of two booker prizes. Any Australian Book Club should read at least one of his novels.  We chose Bliss. It's certainly different!

About Peter Carey

Carey, the author, (there are a few other famous Peter Careys!) is from Victoria, Australia and this is where he grew up.

It seems he struggled to become a famous novelist - he started writing in the 1960's but none of his books were published, and he still needed to eat! His day job was in advertising based in Melbourne.

He actually ended up setting up his own advertising company, so he must have been pretty good at it!

He had a spell of living in America but always prefers to have his novels set in Australia.

His first published novel was Bliss (he won the Miles Franklin Award) in 1981 but it was his next book Oscar and Lucinda that won him the booker prize (1988). Peter Carey won a second booker prize in 2001 for "The History Of The Kelly Gang."

Bliss By Peter Carey

This story is really quite bizarre and at times very surreal.

Harry Joy has a heart attack and once resuscitated,  realises the life he is living, is hell - a wife that cheats on him, a son selling drugs and a communist for a daughter.

He finally finds heaven, in the form of Honey Barbara and finds salvation in a rain forest.

This is the type of book you can read on two levels - the story itself is bizarre and crazy and has very dark humour.  But the underlying messages and themes are quite profound. As a result, we had quite an interesting discussion as to what some of the story actually meant.

Themes in Bliss by Peter Carey

Hell on earth -  This theme permeates the book. Harry dies & presumes when he comes round that he's in Hell. And why not ! His wife commits adultery with his business partner, Joel. Krappe (nice touch) Chemicals, his firm, produces products which cause cancer, his kids behaviour leaves much to be desired and so on.

Good & Evil.-- Harry doesn't find being good easy. When he helps his family by doing menial jobs, they think he's "loopy". And it gets worse when he sacks Adrian Clunes because his products cause cancer. He disregards the money made on these products in his desire to be good. There is such irony when Adrian accuses Harry of being an idealist & mad.  Back to who is sane & who is insane.

    Lack of Communication-- The Joy family are dysfunctional because they don't talk. Harry thinks he knows them all well yet he gradually loses his wife's genuine love  by ignoring  her very strong desire to join the firm & to see her dreams materialise in New York.  She's not the nicest person in the world with her adultery & the rejection of her father at his garage  but Harry had no right to ignore her needs.
He doesn't know his children either. He's sure David is going to be a doctor but  he is a go-getter like his mother & is into drugs etc. whilst both kids indulge in incest! Harry's hell gets worse as he realises what they are all like.

Betrayal-- Harry is betrayed at every turn by his family, his partner, Joel  & by Alice Dalton etc. He's even betrayed by  Honey who gets sucked into the life of Harry's family, & only when she is seduced by David  does she return home to the Rain Forest to a purer, earthier life.

    The themes are universal & timeless, &  there are more than are dealt with here, such as pollution etc.  There is nothing new here except the bizarre way in which they are presented.

Book Club Questions for Bliss

Did you enjoy the story of Bliss - why or why not?

Did you find the happenings believable?

Peter Carey has an ability to notice the tiny details,especially domestic detail; eg. washing on the line, boy on red bike - does he succeed in kidding us into accepting the bizarre?

What are the groups view on Incest? Is it ever acceptable?

What do you think of the choice of names used by Peter Carey e.g. Krappe Chemicals, Harry Joy, Barbara Honey etc?

What underlying messages do you think the author is trying to convey through his bizarre story?

Was the ending satisfactory? Would you have preferred a different ending? What?


Our book club find this to be a most bizarre read and gave it a 6/10. That said, we enjoyed a very interesting discussion, trying to understand what the underlying meanings behind some of the strange goings on in the novel.

There is a lot of black humour. Take for example the incident of the squashed red car, the Fiat, & the elephant. But, the funniest of all is Alex Duval being committed to the mental hospital as Harry Joy. Exactly who is insane?   An hilarious story; wonderful reading & writing.

Some found the ending disappointing, as though Carey had run out of steam & had put all his energy into the earlier part of the novel.

So it would probably have scored higher post discussion. I'm not sure we will be rushing back to read another by Peter Carey but it's good to read an Australian author.

Top of Bliss By Peter Carey

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