Book Review: Amnesia by Peter Carey

Title: 22930198Amnesia

Author: Peter Carey

Published: Penguin Books Australia

ISBN: 1926428609

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Thriller

Pages: 385

My Rating: 4/5

Description (from Goodreads):

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 hundreds of Australian prisons and released the locks in many 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, 1,700 prisons, and over 3,000 county jails. Wherever it went, it traveled 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.

Has a young Australian woman declared cyber war on the United States? Or was her Angel Worm intended only to open the prison doors of those unfortunates detained by Australia’s harsh immigration policies? Did America suffer collateral damage? Is she innocent? Can she be saved?

Peter Carey’s masterful new novel, AMNESIA.

My Thoughts:

I received my copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Amnesia by Peter Carey was not quite what I expected from the blurb, it was so much better. Rather than simply telling us the story of how an Australian hacker ‘Fallen Angel’/Gaby Baillieux hacked Australian prison systems to release detainees, Carey delves deep into Gaby’s and Australia’s political history to explain why a girl from Melbourne would decide to become a ‘hacktivist’ in the first place. The premise of the novel and inspiration for the name comes from the idea that America has at times been a bit of a bully towards Australia and Australians seem to just forget about it.

Gaby is accused of infiltrating the Australian prison system to release immigrants who have been detained in Australia which also inadvertently affects many American systems. The American government sees this as an act of terror and immediately demands that Gaby is extradited to face terrorism charges there. Peter Carey says that he drew inspiration for Amnesia from the Julian Assange case when he discovered that Assange’s mother was a Labor supporter (lefty) in Australia during the 70’s and began pondering the implications that this might have had on his political motivations. Read the interview in The Australian here.

Amnesia is told through the eyes of Felix Moore, a journalist and long time Labor supporter, who has recently been disgraced for falsifying stories. His career is effectively over and his marriage is on the rocks when he is offered the opportunity to write Gaby’s biography in an attempt to proclaim her innocence.

Gaby is the child of an actress and a Labor minister. During her teen years she is exposed to some very radical Labor followers and falls in love with a hacker who teaches her all of his tricks. This combination means that she is almost destined to become a political activist.

Carey discusses real historical events to describe the ongoing relationship between Australia and America, particularly the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975 by the Governor General. The history books provide a number of factors that contributed to Whitlam’s dismissal, but in Amnesia, Carey claims that the CIA was behind it due to Whitlam attempting to take control of ASIO (Australia’s version of the CIA) and threatening to cease the agreement for the American army base at Pine Gap.

I’m not too sure on my thoughts about Carey’s claims but I do agree that Whitlam was an extremely radical prime minister and I can easily imagine that his policies would have threatened a lot of politicians, so I can believe that many politicians at the time would have wanted him gone. Some of Whitlam’s notable achievements while he was in office include the termination of military conscription (another factor that would have gotten him offside with the American government I would imagine,)  institution of universal healthcare and free university education. As a side note, I find it extremely hypocritical that the politicians who are currently campaigning so vigorously to increase Australian university fees didn’t pay a cent for their educations thanks to Whitlam. I wonder if they would be so determined if they were asked to pay for their fees retrospectively?

I feel that Amnesia was published at a perfect time for me as I am currently studying a news and politics subject and it certainly gave me cause to ponder many issues from a different perspective. I also loved the many references to Melbourne suburbs and landmarks, although people from outside of Australia may find them a bit confusing or irrelevant. Amnesia was a thought provoking and extremely well written novel and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Australian history. Even if you are well versed on Australian history you will find yourself thinking about events in different ways and if you aren’t you will most likely be inspired to find out more as I was.

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