Bliss, Peter Carey
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My favorite novel, Ken Grimwood’s Replay, begins with the main character dying of a heart attack, then returning to life which forces him to examine what his past life had been and what he should do given this second chance. In Bliss, Harry Joy also dies at the very first page, but when he returns to life, he doesn’t dwell on his past but thinks that he has moved on to Hell and all these people posing as his family are but Actors used to torture him. At the end of Replay, you are left with a new respect for life; at the end of Bliss, if you make it that far, you may see life differently, but not necessarily in affirmation.

I hate to think of myself as prudish, but this novel (termed darkly comic) had me squirming uncomfortably in several sections, from the graphic description within the first fifty pages of his wife’s adultery and its aftermath to the scene in which Harry Joy’s 17-year-old son trades his teen sister some drugs for a blowjob. It was a measure of the quality of Carey’s writing itself that I didn’t quit after that.

There are resolutions here that help redeem most of these characters, whose ugliness to each other is only leavened by the karmic twist that their author holds in store for them. And the most positive thing about the novel is that it doesn’t fail to surprise the reader, never taking the tried and true road but moving in a new direction that remains consistent with how the author has described the characters.

But at the end, I wasn’t moved by Joy’s plight, or the path by which his life is changed, and in fact wondered if the time I had spent with the book had been worthwhile.

[Finished 29 Aug 2008]


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