Book Review of Bliss

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As Mary Whipple says: "Bliss is a lively, entertaining, and thought-provoking seriocomic novel, and Peter Carey is a terrifically amusing writer with a great ear for dialogue, a wry humor, and a broad vision. He delights in poking fun of us and our foibles, while saving his barbs for corporations and institutions. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Bliss, I know I would have enjoyed it even more, and maybe even loved it, when it was published in 1981. I feel Bliss to be just a bit dated now--still well worth reading and lots of fun, with many extremely funny scenes--but less relevant with its environmental messages and its anti-Big Business needling than it must have been when these messages were fresh, new, and more importantly, uncommon. As it was, Carey's approach now feels a bit patronizing at times and the environmental message, just a bit didactic--and old.

The book opens with Harry Joy, an advertising executive, having an out-of-body experience as he "dies" from a heart attack. When he comes back to life, he is convinced that he is in Hell. Since his wife is having an affair with his business partner, his son is selling drugs, and his daughter is a sexually precocious junkie, it is easy to see why Harry is convinced that his life is Hell and why he feels a captive to it. As he seeks enlightenment, Harry recognizes that Krappe Chemicals, a client, is polluting the environment with cancer-causing fumes, sees a cancer map showing the rates of cancer near industrial polluters, and meets Honey Barbara, an environmentally conscious prostitute with a heart of green.

Carey's satire here also includes the vagaries of religious doctrine, the absurdities of police procedure, the abuses of the mental health "industry" and its institutions, the fear of Communist conspiracies, and even of the trustee selection process for the State Gallery, which draws from "the very inner circle of society." It is lots of fun to read, with some laugh-out-loud funny scenes, but its thematic punch seems to have dulled a bit over time."