30 Days in Sydney

30 Days in Sydney

A Wildly Distorted Account

Book - 2001
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Peter Carey captures our imagination with a brilliant and unexpected portrait of Sydney.

Bloomsbury is pleased to announce the second title in the phenomenally well-received Writer in the City series-in which some of the world's finest novelists reveal the secrets of the city they know best. In the midst of the 2000 Olympic games, Australia native Peter Carey returns to Sydney after a seventeen-year absence. Examining the urban landscape as both a tourist and a prodigal son, Carey structures his account around the four elements-Earth, Air, Fire, and Water-insisting on the primacy of nature to this unique Australian cityscape.

As his quixotic account unfolds, Carey looks both inward into his past (as well as Sydney's own violent history) and outward onto the city's familiar landmarks and surroundings-the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the Blue Mountains-achieving just the right alchemy of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water to tell Sydney's extraordinary story.

Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury, 2001.
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9781582341668
Branch Call Number: 994.4104/CAREY
Characteristics: 248 p. : maps ; 19 cm.
Alternative Title: Thirty days in Sydney


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Jul 26, 2018

Somewhat surprisingly, this was a nice introduction to a brief visit to Sydney. It offers a little history, a little memoir and plenty of colourful storytelling set in a wide variety of Sydney locations. Carey tells stories about people from his earlier life in Sydney, combined with a contemporary visit to some of the same people. His scenes range from the Blue Hills behind Sydney to the straits offshore, managing to cover most of the tourist highlights, such as a climb up the Sydney bridge, a tour of the opera house and the ferry ride to Manley beach. He even manages to fit in many memorable un-touristy incidents, such as an attempt to go protect his friend’s home from a fast-moving forest fire.
Among the more memorable stories are two different tales of fighting the wild seas of Sydney’s outer harbour and southeast coast down into Bass Strait. The unforeseen hazards show why earlier mariners avoided the southern oceans and failed to find Australia until 1770. Carey also illustrates the ignorance, privation and corruption suffered by the first convict Britons who were sent to establish a colonial presence in Australia.
He fills his stories with concrete details of the colours, sounds and natural features that make them quite realistic. By the time I got to Sydney, I was looking forward to visiting the places he describes, and felt I knew a lot about them.
Carey is a novelist of renown, although I haven’t read any of his books, so I was not surprised that he could write a good story. It made me wonder, though, how factual the stories are. Did he really go through those incidents with his friends, or are they reworked to make a better story? Or are they all the products of a creative imagination? Some stories seem to be clearly fantasies, such as the dreamlike midnight climb to conquer the Sydney bridge. The histories seem to be solidly based in fact. These are all good questions to have in mind reading any travelogue, and they might not have been so prominent in my mind if Carey had not been a novelist.
The concrete details and storytelling approach that Carey uses make a nice complement to David Day’s Claiming A Continent, which I read at the same time.


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