Peter Carey Watch #2

Reviews of His Illegal Self

Those in favour:
Dovegreyreader has had problems with Carey's novels in the past and "cynical old me wasn't going to be impressed by a name, or browbeaten by a reputation, or even charmed by a cover bearing a beatific child fixing me with a penetratingly angelic gaze, just daring me to dislike the book...go on, just you he about to cry?

"I've heard wind of the reviews, and there would seem to be slapdown mutterings and chunnerings afoot and the ones I've skimmed are not favourable and give away just about every plot detail, but really I might just as well say Booker and His Illegal Self in the same sentence and get that bit over with first. You don't need to be Einstein to come up with the formula, Carey + New Novel = Booker. Except that I think, in fact I'm going to be brave and say it, if this book makes it through it will deserve to be there.

"There's no doubt about it, Peter Carey writes well and truly out of the box.."

Richard Eder in "The Boston Globe: "A jigsaw puzzle's compulsion lies not just or even mainly in the pieces, but in the gaps to be filled. Peter Carey's magnificent novel about the burnishing ordeals of three waifs is told as an
intricate series of missing pieces...His Illegal Self is a novel of narrative complexity and blindingly direct emotion not so much bestowed upon its readers as won by them. The effort we make is not really effortful, though. Carey's writing is a series of insights that incite and arrest. Above all he has created three alluring, unexpected, and intensely moving characters who do not so much reveal themselves as transform themselves into revelation."

Those not so sure:

Abigail Deutsch in "The Village Voice": "At its best, this curious novel is a study of disorientation, of knowing neither where nor who one is...By the end, we feel a bit unsure of who Carey's characters really are - making it fitting, if not satisfying, that they bear so many names."

Those against:

Lionel Shriver in "The Telegraph": "Peter Carey's last novel, Theft, was a big, brave bastard of a book, its characters so outsized that they should barely have been able to button their shirts. It's hardly fair to reproach an author with his own achievements, but in the reviewing tradition of doing just that, His Illegal Self is not as good...Somehow this story from 1973 doesn't quite convince as period fiction, yet feels a little stale; there's a thin line between a-while-ago and dated...Carey's prose is uneven...The biggest problem with His Illegal Self is that it's hard to read. Not impossible to read - it's no Joycean tossed salad - but more difficult than need be."

Now, here's a surprise - Michiko Kakautani in "The New York Times": "Peter Carey's novels - from the Booker Prize winners Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang through recent ones like My Life as a Fake and Theft - tend to feature improbable undertakings, sudden reversals of fortune and elaborately manufactured or forged identities. Most of his characters inhabit a boldly colored limbo land somewhere on the great fiction map between Dickens's world of improbable coincidences and the old-fashioned world of the picaresque, where odd happenings and even odder people are strung together willy-nilly into rollicking, improvisatory tales...Mr. Carey's latest novel, His Illegal Self, is very much a distillation of these proclivities, and the book, like many of his earlier efforts, turns out to be a herky-jerky affair that lurches between the compelling and the lackadaisical, the intriguing and the preposterous." And that's just the first two paragraphs.

Profiles/Interviews etc:

Mike Doherty in "National Post": "Perhaps one secret to becoming a writer of Carey's stature is a mixture of self-belief and humility. His website lists five unpublished novels and scads of short stories he wrote as a young man in Australia in the '60s and '70s, when, he recalls with a laugh, 'I thought I was a genius! The second novel I wrote was accepted by an Australian publisher. I was 24. That seemed reasonable to me! In the end, all that fell through, and I was furious, but I was so lucky. It never occurred to me I had anything to learn. I'd read very little, and I pushed blindly and enthusiastically onwards.'"

Jackie McGlone in "The Scotsman": "'What really fascinates me, though, is the power of the imagination. I believe that writers should write about what they don't know, not about what they do know. Some of my students become trapped in their own lives, churning over the crimes of parents and siblings, which stops them discovering the incredible joys of invention'...'Perhaps it was writing True History of the Ned Kelly Gang that really freed me up - maybe it was being brave enough to abandon all punctuation in that book that did it. Getting rid of punctuation means you have to get rid of all sorts of sloppiness in your writing, you have to be really, really exact. And it allowed me to be playful with language, which is what I'd admired in serious literature when I first started to read it when I was about 18.'"

Channel 4 has a video interview with Carey on their website, which is certainly worth watching (runs about 20-or-so minutes) and which mentions "The New York Times" review.
[Thanks, Kim.]

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 20, 2008 3:10 PM.

Reviews of Australian Books #75 was the previous entry in this blog.

A Classic Year: 6.0 "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson is the next entry in this blog.

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