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True History of the Kelly Gangby Peter Carey
Synopses & Reviews
"Sentimental attachment to geography irritated her, Australians were riddled with it," writes Tim Winton of his protagonist Georgie Jutland in his glorious new novel Dirt Music. As an Australian ex-patriot I concur. I can also add that sentimental attachment to rogue outlaws, and in particular the "bushranger" Ned Kelly, has persisted for over 100 years. The tiny town of Glenrowan, site of Kelly's historic showdown, is covered with Kelly icons, and one of Australia's most successful artists, Sydney Nolan is renowned for his haunting silhouettes of the distinctive metal armor.
Peter Carey is also an ex-pat, a novelist who conquered the Australian literary world almost immediately with his first novel Bliss, which won the prestigious Miles Franklin award in 1981 and was made into a film (by Lantana director Ray Laurence) in 1985. After winning handfuls of awards in Australia, as well as the Booker Prize in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda, Carey moved to New York in the late 1980s where he has remained ever since. Yet Carey's bittersweet ties to his home country remain strong, his writing consistently focusing on the origin of Australian character, and his most recent offering a personal musing on his return to his native land — the first in seventeen years — titled 30 Days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account.
The 2001 Booker award winning True History of the Kelly Gang, however, may be said to be Carey's crowning achievement. A fictionalized autobiography of Australia's most notorious gangster Ned Kelly, it is a Joycean trip into first person narrative, a coming of age story, and a thundering, adventurous ride. The prose is extraordinary, an almost invented language that is breathlessly hypnotic. The story of Ned Kelly, so strong in the memories of anyone who grew up in Australia, has now been given its true mythological due. Carey has created vivid, beautiful poetry out of dusty legend. Georgie, Powells.com
Out of nineteenth-century Australia rides a hero of his people and a man for all nations, in this masterpiece by the Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs. Exhilarating, hilarious, panoramic, and immediately engrossing, it is also at a distance of many thousand miles and more than a century a Great American Novel.
This is Ned Kelly's true confession, in his own words and written on the run for an infant daughter he has never seen. To the authorities, this son of dirt-poor Irish immigrants was a born thief and, ultimately, a cold-blooded murderer; to most other Australians, he was a scapegoat and patriot persecuted by "English" landlords and their agents.
With his brothers and two friends, Kelly eluded a massive police manhunt for twenty months, living by his wits and strong heart, supplementing his bushwhacking skills with ingenious bank robberies while enjoying the support of most everyone not in uniform. He declined to flee overseas when he could, bound to win his jailed mother's freedom by any means possible, including his own surrender. In the end, however, she served out her sentence in the same Melbourne prison where, in 1880, her son was hanged.
Still his country's most powerful legend, Ned Kelly is here chiefly a man in full: devoted son, loving husband, fretful father, and loyal friend, now speaking as if from the grave. With this mythic outlaw and the story of his mighty travails and exploits, and with all the force of a classic Western, Peter Carey has breathed life into a historical figure who transcends all borders and embodies tragedy, perseverance, and freedom.
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