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Thursday, 28 December 2006

30 Days in Sydney bookcover; BloomsburyReview: 30 Days in Sydney: A wildly distorted account, Peter Carey (2001)

Brief synopsis: writer returns to home town for a month after years living as an expatriate in New York, meets some friends, who take him to some of their favourite haunts, where he meets a few new people.

As a sample of Sydney, the places these friends take Carey to are hardly representative of today's average inhabitant. Woollahra, the Blue Mountains, Pittwater, Paddington, Bondi, Vaucluse. Pretty upper-class, actually. He never gets to meet any of the millions who live in the multicultural west or south-west, or the denizens of the McMansion dormitory suburbs of the north-west. His encounters with Sydney are distinctly A-list and apart from one Aboriginal woman who drives a tow-truck and likes reading, almost exclusively AB demographic.

For all that, this is a book I'd recommend to any traveller intending to make the trip out to Sydney. It is a world-class city and deserves this type of treatment. It's just a pity that Carey doesn't know anyone who lives outside the exclusive selection of suburbs he samples. For that reason the subtitle is apt.

It's apt for other reasons, too. As in any book by Carey the level of humour is high and feisty. It's a punchy introduction. Although the people he meets up with — his old friends — are real people, they get the Carey treatment and seem larger than life, somehow. Bigger, stranger, odder, more representative. This is what fiction does well.

Carey does it extremely well, and nobody who reads this book should be disappointed. You get the feeling that the narrator is working hard just to keep up with what the city throws at him. It's too beautiful, too outrageous, too corrupt, too human to encapsulate in a paltry 250 pages. And it is. For this reason, the book has a frantic edge that supplies much of the humour.

The book provides a series of brief snapshots. It is easy to read, and great fun if you know the city and can 'get' the geographical and socio-political cognates immediately. For people who have never visited, it provides a quick intro to some of the things that matter to Sydneysiders. I just wish his snapshot of Parramatta Road had been longer.

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