Jun 9, 2010

Peter Carey’s a snob: Bryce Courtenay in defence of popular storytelling

"Peter Carey is a perfect example of that kind of inane literacy snobbery,” Bryce Courtenay tells Crikey, in defence of popular culture and “show-offs” like the Booker Prize winner he says have hijacked the cultural debate.

Jason Whittaker — Former <em>Crikey</em> editor and publisher

Jason Whittaker

Former Crikey editor and publisher

“Peter Carey is a perfect example of that kind of inane literacy snobbery,” says Bryce Courtenay, with an economy and efficacy of words that has made him Australia’s most wildly successful writer.

Courtenay was stung by Carey’s recent closing night address to the Sydney Writers’ Festival, during which he rebuked a nation “getting dumber every day”; “forgetting how to read” the classics in favour of cookbooks and Dan Brown and “cultural junk … completely destructive of democracy”.

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45 thoughts on “Peter Carey’s a snob: Bryce Courtenay in defence of popular storytelling

  1. Michael Beggs

    It was a dark secret that Carey was a copy-writer? Wasn’t the main character of Bliss, his first novel, an ad man?

  2. HB

    “but the reading public is homogeneous.” Implying that the reading public has “a property of a mixture showing no variation in properties”?

  3. kathleen1

    Reading in schools is crap for a number of reasons. I remember my 10 year old son was told to stop reading Lord of the Rings to do an assignment on a book of no consequence that nobody can remember because “not everybody in the class can read Lord of the Rings”. Of course, once interrupted and refocussed elsewhere he didn’t go back. Took him another 8 years to finish a piece of great literature.

  4. dirt armature

    Carey is increasingly offensive–full of profound self-importance and ex-pat hubris. His increasingly irritating non-fictional incursions are designed to garner attention for his boring writing. Makes sense then that Old Louie the Fly wants a piece of that action. Boring, boring boring. Nothing to see here, move on . . .

  5. kebab shop pizza

    Tony Martin unwraps this everyman theory like a christmas present:

    Don’t mind the url, it is quite safe. It refers to the ABC book club show featuring UK airport novelist Lee Childs.

  6. Wombat

    Hear bloody hear. I’ve read both Peter Carey’s and Bryce Courtenay’s latest novels. Carey’s was the epitome of literary snobbery. I didn’t understand everything he was trying to say, but I am glad that I read it. It was smart and interesting. The only trouble was that it took several weeks to read because it was such hard work. Whereas Courtenay’s latest was a pleasure to read, light and entertaining, written very much for an audience that wanted a nice holiday read.

    I can understand Carey’s point, but I fundamentally disagree with it. His books don’t sell well because the public doesn’t want to read them, not because the public is too stupid to understand them. Keep up the good work Bryce, and I look forward to the next book.

  7. Jim Sutherland

    Ihave read a number of Peter Careys books and consider him an uneven author. Bliss and Oscar and Lucinda were both good reads but a lot of his novels are undermined by his constant belittling and demeaning of Australian life and values. Frankly I thought The True History of The Kelly Gang to be a turgid catty and highly inaccurate putdown of Kelly and his legend . Carey seema to have a real problem with Australia.

  8. Michael R James

    @KEBAB SHOP PIZZA at 1:58 pm

    Yes, it barely deserves comment but Lee Childs and Bryce Courtney prove the point every time they open their mouths. Childs was very instructive about the entire carefully planned strategy to write best sellers. No problem with that but at the same time, can there be any doubt that our society is being dumbed down. One doesn’t have to think Carey is a great writer (personally I still believe what I thought decades ago reading his early works: too mannered) to agree with his claim. The dominance of best sellers and the likes of Twilight is proof enough. Childs and Courtney seem to have some complex–dare I say inferiority complex–much more than Carey and say, other Booker winners. They seriously claimed that they would love to write best sellers like Childs; pretty weird because the likes of Carey and Amis do quite nicely and I reckon it is ridiculous to imagine they would ever hanker to write one of those genre books (it is true that they might find it difficult because it does take amazing discipline to write such stuff–what, other than $$ is the motivation?)

    But let’s not forget the current Labor front bench (but perhaps sole Liberal, Malcolm T) who set an excellent example. From the PM to Lindsay egghead Tanner, Peter Garrett (who appeared on ABC book club this year), Craig Emmerson and others.

  9. Kaitlin Walsh

    I’m with Wombat.

  10. Fiona Scott-Norman

    Go read the Tony Martin piece. It’s a peach.

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