My Life as a Fake
"In Melbourne in the 1940s, a conservative young poet named Christopher Chubb decides to teach the country a lesson about pretension and authenticity. Choosing as his target the most avant-garde of the literary magazines, he submits for publication the entire oeuvre of one Bob McCorkle, a working-class poet of raw power and sexual frankness, conveniently dead at twenty-four and entirely the product of Chubb's imagination. Not only does the magazine fall for the hoax, but its editor is prosecuted for publishing obscenity. During the trial, someone uncannily resembling the man in the faked photograph of the invented McCorkle leaps to his feet. At this moment a horrified Chubb is confronted by the malevolent being he has himself manufactured.
"Using as a springboard the Ern Malley hoax, Peter Carey wickedly and ruefully explores how the phantom poet taunts, haunts and otherwise destroys his maker, pursuing Chubb from Melbourne to the seedy, sweaty, tropical chaos of Kuala Lumpur.
"A manic, endearing and penetrating ode to fakery at its most truthful and truth at its most fake, My Life as a Fake penetrates to the heart of the alchemy of literature itself."
"Peter Carey's new novel, My Life as a Fake is so confidently brilliant, so economical yet lively in its writing, so tightly fitted and continuously startling in its plot that something, we feel, must be wrong with it. It ends in a bit of a rush, and left several questions dangling in this reader's mind. Unfortunately, to spell out those questions would be to betray too much of an intricate fictional construct where little is as it first seems and fantastic developments unfold like scenes on a fragile paper fan...Other reviewers of this folded and refolded tale of mental and physical adventure have claimed its moral to be that everyone depicted is a fake. I don't see this; the characters are as genuine as their words permit them to be, though all, being characters, are caught up in the business of fiction, which is fakery." - John Updike, The New Yorker
"No Australian novelist since Patrick White (with the possible exception of Tom Keneally) has done more to place his work, and the country that inspires it, on a world stage than Peter Carey. We have seen Oscar and Lucinda's take on the apparitional shape of a modern classic, and we have seen their creator take on, in terms of prestige, the mantle of a postmodern master of world reputation who is also an excavator of national myths...Carey toys with mythologies in the process of pursuing his own destiny as a literary artist. He does his best to co-ordinate his creation and re-invention of myth with his own tendency towards a proliferating magical realism, in which story follows story follows story as a dog pursues a rabbit wherever it goes, and the narratological free-for-all seems the raison d'etre of literary art...Mythos, for Aristotle, meant the element of plot, the overarching structure. It does for Carey, too, but he is also on the scent of the thousand stories his myth may suggest to him. And so it goes with his new work, My Life as a Fake...In the end, the brooding ruin of Chubb is worth enduring the house of cards that summons him up. My Life as a Fake is a thwarted and disnatured fable but it does have, however stammeringly, a black magic that is unforgettable." - Peter Craven, Sydney Morning Herald
"Readers who have heard that Peter Carey's new novel is a 'roman à clef' should be warned that they will need a whole bunch of keys to unlock its mysteries. Carey seems to have decided that one good template deserves another, so that the Ern Malley swindle of 1944 in Melbourne is coupled with a makeover of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the whole topped up with some Somerset Maugham Malayan expatriation and a haunted pursuit out of Mr Norris Changes Trains (the dreadful Schmidt becomes Carey's implacable poet McCorkle). It hardly matters how the modules Carey plays with are adapted: what counts is the knowingness of the fictional typology. The book is haunted by literature. As Auden, one of many writers almost in the story, puts it, 'All is stale yet all is strange.' It should take courage for a novelist to enter the self-referential world of poetry, but Carey is one of several champions of more popular forms to have recognised recently that while poems don't interest the public the scandals of poets' lives are prime fictional real estate...Carey undoubtedly gives 'spin' a new run for its money, but all spinning must end in Atropos's shears. And very bloody they make it, in this case. It worries me that Carey, like his fellow novelist David Malouf, is drawn increasingly to archetypal Australian legends. Malley, though, is fresher than Ned Kelly, and My Life as a Fake is an inventive resurrection of Australia's first and most haunting appearance of the New Prometheus. " - Peter Porter, The Spectator
"Early in Peter Carey's new novel, one of its main characters, a celebrated but doggedly mediocre English poet named John Slater, remarks, 'When you are cut off from the rest of the world, things are bound to develop in interesting ways.' And although Carey is much too sophisticated and playful a novelist to use his characters as mouthpieces, I think it's safe to say that he'd endorse the old poet's sentiment; this may, in fact, be the only statement made by any of the world-class talkers who populate My Life as a Fake that can be simply taken as read. Just about everyone in this brisk, relentlessly prankish book is engaged in the high literary life, and is therefore, at least to some extent, 'cut off from the rest of the world.' And everyone is a liar. But things do develop in interesting ways, which in Carey's out-there novels is pretty much the whole idea...My Life as a Fake is odd and a bit ungainly, but despite its jitteriness, it's far from second-rate. Even when Peter Carey thinks he's faking it, he's the real thing." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times
The Old Rectory, Thornton, Berkshire. August 1985
I have known John Slater all my life. Perhaps you remember the public brawl with Dylan Thomas, or even have a copy of his famous book of 'dirty' poems. If it's an American edition you'll discover, on the inside flap, a photograph of the handsome, fair-haired auhtor in cricket whites. Dewsong was published in 1930. Slater was twenty at the time, very nearly a prodigy.
That same year I was born Sarah Elizabeth Jane to a beautiful, impatient Australian mother and a no less handsome but rather posh English father, Lord William Wode-Douglass, generally known as Boofy.
Slater's own class background was rather ambiguous, though my mother, a dreadful snob, had a tin ear, and I know she thought Slater very grand and therefore permitted him excesses she would not have tolerated from the Chester grammar school boy he really was.
It was Slater who carved my father's thirtieth birthday cake with his bare hands, who rode a horse into the kitchen, who brought Unity Mitford to dinner during the period she was stealing stationery from Buckingham Palace and carrying that nasty little ferret around in her handbag.
I cannot say that I understood his role in my parents' marriage, and only when my mother killed herself - in a spectacularly awful way - did I suspect anything was amiss. In the last minutes of her life I saw John Slater put his arms around her and finally I understood, or thought I did.
From the Knopf hardback edition, 2003.
This novel was shortlisted for the 2004 Miles Franklin Award.
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Last modified: February 1, 2006.