It's been a long time since I've found such delight in a story's every sentence.
The telling is all fine wordsmithing and sharp phrase-turning and frank soul-searching, neither sentimental nor cynical nor pretentious, and thoroughly engaging.The story is also satisfying and among the best I've read, and it's not the only Peter Carey work to earn that status with me.
It's told in first person, primarily by two narrators, each nearing 30 and introduced as neighbors in small-town Bacchus Marsh. The woman, Irene Bobs, is married to car aficionado and would-be Ford dealer Titch Bobs, and they're raising two children. The man, Willie Bachhuber, is a school teacher and quiz-show whiz, who left his wife and child over a misunderstanding about the child's parentage. The latter leads to much of the story's depths and surprises, and takes the reader into the thick of Australia's troubled racial landscape. The narrators wind up in a car called a Holden (Ford's Aussie competitor) in Australia's 1954 Redex Trial, a cross-continent auto race over much grueling outback.
Irene is my favorite narrator, but I've grown very fond of both voices. Irene, who considers herself little more than a pretty decent mum, turns out to be a bad-ass driver. Willie is her spot-on though occasionally delirious navigator. Their personal journeys progress apace with the race, eventually along separate but criss-crossing paths, never stereotypically and always with great heart.
Here's a taste of the telling, from Irene's perspective:
"The smell of a rally car, the stink, the whiff, the woo, you will never find the recipe for this pong in the Women's Weekly but ingredients include petrol, rubber, pollen, dust, orange peel, wrecked banana, armpit, socks, man's body. I drove into the night on the ratshit regulator. My headlights waxed and waned depending on the engine revs. Beneath us was bulldust, two feet thick. It was always smooth and soft-looking but the Holden banged and thudded like an aluminium dinghy hitting rock. It is a miracle our suspension didn't melt. Sometimes I saw the shock absorbers of a car in front, white hot, glowing like X-rays. Cattle loomed from the blackness and if I had rolled or hit a roo, if I killed us all, what then?"
What then, indeed. It is well worth the read to find out.