Authors: Peter Carey
ALSO BY PETER CAREY
The Chemistry of Tears
Parrot and Olivier in America
His Illegal Self
Wrong About Japan
My Life as a Fake
True History of the Kelly Gang
The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith
The Big Bazoohley
The Tax Inspector
Oscar and Lucinda
The Fat Man in History
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright © 2015 by Peter Carey
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House company, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Australia by Hamish Hamilton.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Carey, Peter, 1943–
Amnesia : a novel / Peter Carey. — First edition.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
ISBN 978-0-385-35277-2 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-0-385-35278-9 (eBook)
1. Young women–Fiction. 2. Journalists–Fiction. 3. Computer viruses–Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Jacket photograph © Image Source Plus / Alamy
Jacket design by Chip Kidd
For Frances Coady
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 countless Australian prisons and released the locks in many other 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, 1700 prisons, and over 3000 county jails. Wherever it went, it travelled 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.
This message and others more elaborate were read, in English, by warders in Texas, contractors in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, in immigrant detention camps in Australia, in Woomera, black sites in the Kimberley, secret centres of rendition at the American “signals facility” near Alice Springs. Sometimes prisoners escaped. Sometimes they were shot and killed. Bewildered Afghans and Filipinos, an Indonesian teenager wounded by gunfire, a British Muslim dying of dehydration, all these previously unknown individuals were seen on public television, wandering on outback roads.
The security monitors in Sydney’s Villawood facility read: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD BY NIGHT OPENED THE PRISON DOORS, AND BROUGHT THEM FORTH. My former colleagues asked, what does this language tell us about the perpetrator?
I didn’t give a toss. I was grateful for a story big enough to push me off the front pages where I had already suffered PANTS ON FIRE. I was spending my days in the Supreme Court of New South Wales paying Nigel Willis QC $500 an hour so I could be sued for defamation. Nigel’s “billable hours” continued to accrue well past the stage when it became clear that he was a fuckwit and I didn’t have a chance in hell, but cheer up mate: he was betting 3:2 on a successful appeal. That my barrister also owned a racehorse was not the point.
Meanwhile there was not much for me to do but read the papers. FEDS NOW SAY ANGEL IS AN AUSSIE WORM.
“Would the defendant like to tell the court why he is reading a newspaper.”
“I am a journalist, m’lud. It is my trade.”
Attention was then brought to the state of my tweed jacket. Ha-ha, m’lud. When the court had had its joke, we adjourned for lunch and I, being unaccompanied on that particular day, took my famously shambolic self across to the botanic gardens where I read the
. Down by the rose gardens amongst the horseshit fertiliser, I learned that the terrorist who had been “obviously” a male Christian fundamentalist had now become the daughter of a Melbourne actress. The traitor appeared very pale and much younger than her thirty years. Dick Connolly got the photo credit but his editor had photoshopped her for in real life she would turn out to be a solid little thing whose legs were strong and sturdy, not at all like the waif in the
. She was from Coburg, in the north of Melbourne, a flat, forgotten industrial suburb coincidentally once the site of Pentridge Prison. She came to her own arraignment in a black hoodie, slouching, presumably to hide the fact that our first homegrown terrorist had a beautiful face.
Angel was her handle. Gaby was her name in what I have learned is “meat world.” She was charged as Gabrielle Baillieux and I had known her parents long ago—her mother was the actress Celine Baillieux, her father Sando Quinn, a Labor member of parliament.
I returned to my own court depressed, not by the outcome of my case, which was preordained, but by the realisation that my life in journalism was being destroyed at the time I might have expected my moment in the sun.
I had published several books, fifty features, a thousand columns,
mainly concerned with the traumatic injury done to my country by our American allies in 1975. While my colleagues leapt to the conclusion that the hacker was concerned simply with freeing boat people from Australian custody, I took the same view as our American allies, that this was an attack on the United States. It was clear to me, straight away, that the events of 1975 had been a first act in this tragedy and that the Angel Worm was a retaliation. If Washington was right, this was the story I had spent my life preparing for. If the “events of 1975” seem confusing or enigmatic to you, then that is exactly my point. They are all part of “The Great Amnesia.” More TC.
In court, I listened as my publisher got a belting from the judge and I saw his face when he finally understood he could not even sell my book as remaindered.
“Pulp?” he said.
“Including that copy in your hand.”
Damages were awarded against me for $120,000. Was I insured or not insured? I did not know.
The crowd outside the court was as happy as a hanging day.
“Feels, Feels,” the News International guy shouted. “Look this way. Felix.”
That was Kev Dawson, a cautious little prick who made his living rewriting press releases.
“Look this way Feels.”
“What do you think about the verdict, Feels?”
What I thought was: our sole remaining left-wing journalist had been pissed on from a mighty height. And what was my crime? Repeating press releases? No, I had reported a rumour. In the world of grown-ups a rumour is as much a “fact” as smoke. To omit the smoke is to fail to communicate the threat in the landscape.
In the Supreme Court of New South Wales this was defamation.
“What next, Felix?”
Rob a bank? Shoot myself? Certainly, no-one would give me the Angel story although I was better equipped (
magazine take note) to write it than any of the clever children who would be hired to do the job. But I was, as the judge had been pleased to point out, no longer employable in “your former trade.” I had been a leader writer, a columnist, a so-called investigative reporter. I had inhabited the Canberra
Press Gallery where my “rumours” had a little power. I think Alan Ramsey may have even liked me. For a short period in the mid-seventies, I was host of
on the ABC.
I was an aging breadwinner with a ridiculous mortgage. I had therefore been a screenwriter and a weekend novelist. I had written both history and political satire, thrillers, investigative crime. The screen adaptation of my novel
Barbie and the Deadheads
was workshopped at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.
But through this, even while bowing and scraping to get “seed money” from the Australian Film Commission, I remained a socialist and a servant of the truth. I had been sued ninety-eight times before they brought me down with this one, and along the way I had exposed the deeds of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch (both Old Geelong Grammarians, btw) always a very dangerous occupation for a family man, and apparently terrifying for those who rely on him for succour. As the doors of the mainstream media closed to anyone unworldly enough to write the truth, I still published “Lo-tech Blog,” a newsletter printed on acid paper which was read by the entire Canberra Press Gallery and all of parliament besides. Don’t ask how we paid our electricity bill.