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  • Carpentaria - A Reading Australia Information Trail

    Alexis Wright's Carpentaria is set in the Gulf of Carpentaria region in a fictional town called Desperance. The novel follows the interactions of and tensions between various local residents and groups, including Indigenous residents, white officials, and a mining company.

    – Part One of this trail focuses on the representation of time within the novel.

    – Part Two examines the depiction of the rubbish dump.

    – Part Three draws together more general information such as reviews of the book. The trail concludes with a list of interviews of Wright and suggestions for further reading. Some of these critical works and other resources are available to read online.

    Click the hyperlinks in the citations below to be taken to the full text.

  • Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

    Image courtesy of Giramondo Publishing
    Carpentaria's portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, whose members are the leaders of the Pricklebush people, and their battles with old Joseph Midnight's tearaway Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other. Wright's storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, politics and farce. The novel is populated by extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, leader of the holy Aboriginal pilgrimage, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the ever-vigilant Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, Angel Day the queen of the rubbish-dump, and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time - figures that stand like giants in this storm-swept world. (...more)
    See full AustLit entry
  • Alexis Wright

    Photo courtesy of the author.

    Alexis Wright, activist and award-winning writer, is from the Waanji people from the highlands of the southern Gulf of Carpentaria. After her father, a white cattleman, died when she was five, she grew up with her mother and grandmother in Cloncurry, Queensland. She has worked extensively in government departments and Aboriginal agencies across four Australian states and territories as a professional manager, educator, researcher, and writer.

    Wright was coordinator of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Constitutional Convention in 1993 and wrote 'Aboriginal Self Government' for Land Rights News, later quoted in full in Henry Reynolds's Aboriginal Sovereignty (1996).

    See full AustLit entry
  • Translations

    Carpentaria has been translated into Italian, Chinese, French and Polish.

  • Part One - Desperance Time

    Some critics have written about the representation of time in Carpentaria, seeing it as 'carnivalesque' or otherwise non-traditional. Wright herself has discussed her approach to time in the novel.

  • On Writing Carpentaria

    Wright describes what drove her to write her novel Carpentaria, stating that 'For a long time while I was exploring how to write Carpentaria, I tried to come to some understanding of two principal questions: firstly, how to understand the idea of Indigenous people living with the stories of all the times of this country, and secondly, how to write from this perspective.'

    See full AustLit entry

    Wright, Alexis. 'On Writing Carpentaria.' Heat 13 (New Series) Harper's Gold (2007). Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Carnival Time

    'Alexis Wright's Carpentaria is the story of the Phantom family, members of the Pricklebush people, who live in the fictional town of Desperance in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland. It is a long and sprawling carnivalesque novel that offers a cautiously positive outlook for Aboriginal people that also recognises the difficulties of contemporary Aboriginal experience. Carpentaria is not an historical novel in the sense of retelling an historical event; however, the past pervades the narrative as it grapples with the many ways that the past is recorded. (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    Molloy, Diane. 'Finding Hope in the Stories: Alexis Wright's Carpentaria and the Carnivalesque Search for a New Order.' JASAL 12.3 (2012). Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Eternal Present

    This review describes Carpentaria as a political novel that is also personal. It discusses the novel's style and argues that '[t]he narrative voice of Carpentaria is a storyteller’s voice; its narrative context, an eternal present as lived by a community for whom history and myth are interwoven. Just as the serpent is both the region’s river system and the totemic RainbowSerpent of Aboriginal creation stories, so the novel occupies two parallel time zones, or streams of activity, one linear and the other part of an infinite spiritual cycle’ (Source: review.

    See full AustLit entry

    Lowry, Elizabeth. 'The Fishman Lives the Lore.' London Review of Books 30.8 (24 April 2004): 26-27. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Part Two - Waste and Space

    Some critics have focused on the role of waste in the novel, and how the floating island of rubbish operates as a space or place. The resources below discuss space/place and waste in Carpentaria, except for Reading the Country, which looks at the relationships between people and place, and Intimate Horizons, which looks at space, the sacred, and the everyday.

  • Heterotopic Waste

    In this essay, Hall argues that the floating island of rubbish in Alexis Wright's Carpentaria can be seen as a Foucauldian heterotopia.

    See full AustLit entry

    Hall, Demelza. 'The Isle of Refuse in Alexis Wright's Carpentaria: Reconstructing Heterotopic Space.' Long Paddock 72.3 (2012). Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • 'Alchemical Arrangements' of Waste

    'I argue in this essay that Australian writer Alexis Wright's 2006 novel Carpentaria and New Zealand writer Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter series (comprising of the novels Dreamhunter (2005) and Dreamquake (2007)) call up the matter of region and the waste of modernity to secede the form of nation. As fictional spaces overlaying real places, doubling with a world of dreams and an underworld of nightmares of colonial violence, these novels also move beyond the form of realism.

    See full AustLit entry

    Joseph, Laura. 'Dreaming Phantoms and Golems: Elements of the Place Beyond Nation in Carpentaria and Dreamhunter.' JASAL Special Issue Australian Literature in a Global World (2009). Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Reading the Country

    image of person or book cover
    Image courtesy of publisher's website.

    'Reading the Country is a journey into Roebuck Plains, near Broome in Australia's far north-west; it is an exploration of the meaning of place, an attempt to chart the relationships between people and those specific places in which they must find a place to live. It is a journey through landscape into language and ideas, and personal and cultural location.' (Source: Publisher's Blurb, 1996 Revised Edition)

    See full AustLit entry

    Muecke, Stephen and Paddy Roe, with Ray Keogh, Butcher Joe (Nangan) and E.M. Lohe. Reading the Country: Introduction to Nomadology. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 1984.

  • Intimate Horizons: The Post-Colonial in Australian Literature

    Despite the stereotype of post-colonial Australian society as secular and irreligious, a radical concept of the sacred, located in place, has pervaded its literature. Australian writers again and again break away from received, orthodox notions of religious experience, imagining a transformed post-colonial sacred in Australia.

    For Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies 'place' has had a particularly post-colonial function in contesting imperial cultural forms, including received forms of religion.

    See full AustLit entry

    Ashcroft, W.D., Lyn McCredden and Frances Devlin-Glass. Intimate Horizons: The Post-Colonial Sacred in Australian Literature. Adelaide: ATF Press, 2009.

  • Part Three - Other Criticism and Reviews

    Below are reviews and academic essays about Carpentaria. They cover a range of topics and approaches, including Carpentaria's critical reception, and whether it should be read as magical realism.

  • Unfamiliarity, Strangeness and Magical Realism

    Ravenscroft argues that 'white critical efforts to make meaning' of Carpentaria have portrayed Wright as indebted to novelists such as Patrick White and Frank Hardy, and have also tended, 'in moves that refuse the text's unfamiliarity' to try to categorise the novel as a work magic realism. Ravenscroft goes on to offer, 'first, a more detailed critique of so‐called postcolonial magic realism in which I point to critics’ refusal to allow markers of difference in texts to be significant; indeed, to signify at all.

    See full AustLit entry

    Ravenscroft, Alison. 'Dreaming of Others: Carpentaria and its Critics.' Cultural Studies Review 16.2 (2010): 194-224. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Times Literary Supplement Review

    Aitken discusses some of the political context around the time of Wright's Miles Franklin Award win, and also states that the novel 'is not an activist tract.' He discusses the narrative and the style, and concludes by stating that Carpentaria 'is the most surprising novel I have read this year, not least because of its astonishing optimism.' (Source: review.)

    See full AustLit entry

    Aitken, Tom. 'A Mine in Desperance.' Times Literary Supplement 5485 (16 May 2008): 21. Online. Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Ambiguity and Magic Realism

    'This paper examines the critical reception of Alexis Wright's Plains of Promise as a piece of magical realism, and suggests that it should be read as something of a preparatory text for Wright's later and more highly acclaimed work, Carpentaria.' (Author's abstract)
    See full AustLit entry

    Valenta, Katie. 'Ambiguity in Alexis Wright's Plains of Promise.' Journal of the European Association of Studies on Australia 3.2 (2012): 47-58. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Interviews with Wright

    Below are interviews with Wright, including a video in which she shows her working space.

  • The Writer's Room

    In this video, Wright talks about her writing room and the meaning of some of the items in it. She also talks about writing Carpentaria.

  • Interview with Kerry O'Brien

    Wright discusses what her aims were with Carpentaria, and how she has been influenced by her grandmother in Cloncurry who told stories in a way that brought all times together, which is what Wright also tries to do in Carpentaria. She also discusses her literary influences.

    See full AustLit entry

    Televised on ABC's 7:30 Report. Transcript subsequently published by Hecate.

    'Alexis Wright Interview.' Hecate 33.1 (2007): 215-219. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • The Writer's Room - First Tuesday Book Club

    The Writer's Room
    First Tuesday Book Club Website

    In this video, Wright talks about her writing room and the meaning of some of the items in it. She also talks about writing Carpentaria.

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