True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey University of Queensland Press. 401 pp; $30.00 softcover.
Carey is a literary ventriloquist and very like Charles Dickens.
Many readers will know that Peter Carey has just won the Booker Prize for a second time with his fictional account of Ned Kelly, a story so well known in Australia that the facts need not be recited - there are at least 100 books already on Ned Kelly.
So why another book ? It is a chance for the literary genius of Peter Carey, written in Ned's own words for his imaginary daughter born after his execution.
Crime fiction is Australia's oldest literary genre. It was the biography of the van Dieman's Land bushranger, Michael Howe, that was the first book to be published in March 1819 from Andrew Bent in Hobart. The 36 page was not only the first published but also the first book to be "remaindered"
Carey's book should stand for a lot longer, especially after winning the 2001 Booker Prize. Established in England in 1968, the Booker is probably one of the most prodigious literary prizes in the English language, opening the door to worldwide marketing opportunities. The winner receives 21,000 English pounds. The actual company that finances the prize is a cash and carry food business, serving 400,000 food shops and caterers. The judges this year had to read 120 books. Carey also won the Commonwealth Literary Prize for 2001, as well as previously winning the Booker.
Carey resides these days in New York, and according to newspaper reports his wife was in the WTC on 11 September, and his account was published in The Observer. What effect this event will have on his writing remains to be seen.
Back to The True History of the Kelly Gang, which is Carey's seventh novel. It is written in 1st person, so the reader feels that Kelly is actually talking - Carey himself said about The Jerilderie Letter " Kelly has left his voice for us …these pages are like Ned's DNA", so there is plenty of colloquial English and other isms.
Essentially Carey sticks to Kelly being of Irish peasant parents from County Tipperary, but his patriotism is a puzzle; he had never set foot in Ireland yet he views the landowners the same as Irish tenants viewed their Anglo-Irish landlords. Also Irish phrases abound like "when the devil spoke, were he Irish? " and the banshees of course emigrated with them to Australia.
Regardless of popular myths Kelly was still a bushranger, thief and murderer, and perhaps his sentimentalising tells us more about ourselves than we would care to admit.
A good read.