CareyPosted: October 25, 2017
How did you manage the historical setting?
Well, I’m a bloody colonial, aren’t I? London is not my place and Britain is not my country. How was I going to have the authority to invent London in 1837? First I had to know something that’s different from what anybody ever thought about the period. I couldn’t steal from literature even if I wanted to—for the most part metropolitan literature takes the place for granted. So I spent a lot of time reading about people visiting London from abroad. They’re going to see things that would not occur to the Englishman. There was a German visitor to London, for instance, who spends all this time describing this weird English breakfast that turns out to be toast. That was terrific—the familiar defamiliarized. I was trying to imagine—what was it really like? We generally think of London in that period as gloomy and sooty and filthy, but in the New York Public Library I found an account by an American visitor who described London as ablaze with light. That’s not how anyone thinks of that period, but if you came from Australia or America at that time it was bright. I thought, that’s it—this story will start at night, and it will be blazing bright. That’s the first way in which I can colonize London for myself, take imaginative possession of the territory.
from the Paris Review interview with Peter Carey