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Carpentaria (2006)

por Alexis Wright

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3891151,042 (3.5)70
Carpentaria is Alexis Wright's second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland. The novel's portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight's renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other. The novel teems with extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, the queen of the rubbish-dump Angel Day and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time - figures that stride like giants across this storm-swept world.… (mais)
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  sasameyuki | May 11, 2020 |
This baffling, dreamlike epic rushes you up in a semi-conscious swirl of language into the wild tropical north of Australia, where Queensland sweeps round to cradle an armful of the Pacific in the form of the Gulf of Carpentaria – a land of savannas and tropical cyclones, of eucalypts and estuary streams, melaleucas, songlines, unscrupulous mining corporations, and back-country bogan settlements.

The Gulf country is also the homeland of the Waanyi people, from whom Alexis Wright is descended on her mother's side, and what Carpentaria is most obviously and essentially is a hymn to her people and to her home. It seems necessary to establish this, because it can be difficult to work out what else it might be. Postcolonial epic? Magic-realist fantasy? Indigenous polemic?

The book doesn't present itself as a simple proposition. At more than 500 pages, it feels, just from heaving the thing up in front of your face, like something that will require some work. And the language is constantly wrong-footing you as a reader – like something that's been run through Google Translate and back twice, full of not-quite-right constructions (‘for no good rhyme or reason’), redundancies (‘it fell down, descended down’), misused verbs (‘the thought abhorred him’), even apparent spelling mistakes (‘the mother load’) which might just be editorial slips but which nevertheless contribute to a general sense that language here is unstable, not always to be trusted.

When you read Wright's sentences, you do it gingerly, feeling ahead with your toes, not wanting to put your full weight on a phrase until you're sure it will hold. It reminded me a bit of reading Steve Aylett, though the tone couldn't be more different. Here the method is a kind of Aboriginal English that dares you to think of it as ‘broken’, mixing myth, jokes, and natural history. And then – every now and again – it will suddenly explode into some long, flawlessly poetic excursion positively drenched in the local landscape:

Thousands of dry balls of lemon-coloured spinifex, uprooted by the storm, rolled into town and were swept out to sea. From the termite mounds dotting the old country the dust storm gathered up untold swarms of flying ants dizzy with the smell of rain and sent them flying with the wind. Dead birds flew past. Animals racing in frightened droves were left behind in full flight, impaled on barbed-wire spikes along the boundary fences. In the sheddings of the earth's waste, plastic shopping bags from the rubbish dump rose up like ghosts into the troposphere of red skies to be taken for a ride, far away. Way out above the ocean, the pollution of dust and wind-ripped pieces of plastic gathered, then dropped with the salty humidity and sank in the waters far below, to become the unsightly decoration of a groper's highway deep in the sea.

The nearest thing we have to a hero is the patriarch Normal Phantom, who lives in an indigenous settlement outside the town of Desperance. Norm's community is in a long-running feud with another Aboriginal group on the other side of the village; and between them are the whitefellas of Uptown, run by the violent Mayor Bruiser, policed by the corrupt Officer Truthful, and inhabited by a roster of colourful characters like Lloydie, who runs the pub and is in love with a mermaid trapped in the wood of his bar. Meanwhile Norm's partner, Angel Day, has run off with the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, who leads a convoy endlessly following the Dreaming tracks, while his son Will Phantom is mounting a violent resistance against the local mining corporation…

These are figures that at times seem like characters in a joke (‘An Englishman, and Irishman and an Australian walked into a bar…’), and at other times assume the epic quality of mythic archetypes. Their stories blur into one another, with narratives that follow multiple timelines simultaneously, or loop back on themselves without warning. This is not a case of ‘magic realism’ (an unsatisfactory term), performed for metaphorical effect; rather, it deliberately reflects, I think, a completely different view of the world, one in which time and individuals are not especially important, and where the events of distant myth play an active role in current relationships and causalities.

The language of the novel is richly localised, busy with snappy gums, spearwood, eskies, myalls, skerricks, whirly-winds, gibber stones, sooty grunters, min min lights, big bikkies and a host of other Australianisms that pushed my [book:Australian National Dictionary|31867703] to the limits. Not to mention the many Aboriginal terms. The last time the Waanyi language was surveyed, in the early 80s, researchers found ‘about ten’ native speakers, so it's doubtless extinct by now; Carpentaria is, in this as in other things, an act of preservation as well as of modernisation.

I just don't know who to recommend it to. After a hundred pages I didn't understand it at all. After two hundred pages I thought I understood it, and didn't like it. I might easily have ditched it there, but the book review hanging over my head induced me to carry on – fortunately. After three hundred pages I was gripped, and by the time I finished I was deeply moved. Since then it's only kept expanding in my head, so that I now feel it's one of the most extraordinary books I've read in a long time. Lyrical, passionate, and seemingly detached from all the usual artistic traditions, it feels like you're hearing the genuine voice of a strange and distant land that has not been shown in literature before. ( )
3 vote Widsith | May 14, 2019 |
An amazing epic novel about isolated communities near Carpentaria Bay on the northern coast of Australia: feuding Aboriginals, vindictive Anglos, and destructive employees of an international mine, as well as the sea, ancestors, birds, storms and the Great Serpent pulsing through the earth.

Alexis Wright is herself an Aboriginal and draws on her own traditions. I don’t know enough about those traditions to do more than note a few observations. The book opens with the Great Serpent moving over and under and through the region south of Carpentaria Bay, shaping it, depositing minerals in its ground and digging out its winding river channels. In a similar manner, Wright swirls together people, events, and words within circles that keep returning to key figures. Events move with the grace and terror of the Great Serpent with individuals guiding or passive in their wake. Mysticism in woven into sheer page-turning adventure. You don’t have to be an Aboriginal to resonant with the human distress, terror, and joy which this book conveys. At another level this is a richly human book, full of characters who think and feel.

Read more on my blog: me, you and books
http://mdbrady.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/carpentaria-by-alexis-wright/
  mdbrady | Apr 15, 2012 |
I really struggled with this book and was so relieved when I finished it.

It's about an Aboriginal community who live in Desperance, north-east Australia, and the Phantom family in particular. That's about as much as I can say about the plot.

My trouble with this book was the plot, actually - there wasn't one. Any action is kept until the last fifth of the book, by which point I'm sure a lot of people would have already given up. If I'm honest, the book just bored me.

That's not to say that it isn't well-written because it is, but it wasn't for me. There's only so much rambling narrative and lack of dialogue that I can take. ( )
  deargreenplace | Apr 23, 2011 |
“…Alexis Wright is from Northern Australia and the book is set in a place called Carpentaria on the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, which is still largely inhabited by Aboriginal people. So it is a place where ancient myth is still alive and also a lot of contemporary politics. Geographically, it has these huge tidal flows of the wet season and the dry, and the great wild rivers, and the novel works like that too, with a flow of language which is very funny and very eloquent. The characters in her story are larger than life and act out their dramas on this big, big stage.



Alexis Wright is a one-off. I love her voice, which is very colloquial and crackles with humour and with slang, but is also rich and lyrical, almost operatic, almost biblical at times. She just talks to you throughout the novel. As she is telling these stories and bringing these characters to life, she comments on them and jokes about them…” (reviewed by Nicholas Jose in FiveBooks.)

The full interview is available here: http://fivebooks.com/interviews/nicholas-jose-on-australian-novels ( )
  FiveBooks | May 11, 2010 |
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For Toly. Inspired by all of the beauty that comes from having an ancient homelandthat is deeply loved by those who guard it, and especially by my countrymen, Murrandoo Yanner and Clarence Waldon.
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Carpentaria is Alexis Wright's second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland. The novel's portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight's renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other. The novel teems with extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, the queen of the rubbish-dump Angel Day and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time - figures that stride like giants across this storm-swept world.

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