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True History of the Kelly Gang [Hardcover]

Peter Carey
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Jan 2001
This story is the song of Australia, and it sings its protest in a voice at once crude and delicate, menacing and heart-wrenching. The author gives us Ned Kelly as orphan, as Oedipus, as horse thief, farmer, bushranger, reformer, bank-robber, police-killer and as his country's Robin Hood.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (8 Jan 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571192165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571192168
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 217,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey returns to the harsh, brutal world of Australian history, so brilliantly evoked in earlier novels such as Illywhacker and Oscar and Lucinda. Set in the desolate settler communities north of Melbourne in the late 19th century, the novel is told in the form of a journal, written by the famous outlaw and "bushranger" Ned Kelly, to a daughter he will never see. As Kelly explains, "I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lies may I burn in hell if I speak false".

The salty, colloquial, unpunctuated style of Kelly's journal is reproduced with great skill, as Carey recounts the outlaw's early life with a cross-dressing, Irish immigrant sheep worker, and a beautiful but headstrong mother, always on the wrong side of the law. Inadvertently causing the arrest and death of his father, Ned realises that "there were a drought and nothing flourishing there but misery I were the oldest son I thought it time to earn my place", a decision that ultimately leads him into conflict with the law, and to form the notorious Kelly Gang.

The novel contains some wonderfully lyrical and deeply moving moments, as Ned struggles to articulate the harsh injustice of the world around him, but some readers might find Carey's epistolary style rather restrictive and colourless after the first 100 pages, and lacking in the imaginative excitement of Carey's earlier novels. --Jerry Brotton


"A spectacular feat of imagination."-"The Boston Globe ""Vastly entertaining.... Triumphantly eclectic, as if Huck Finn and Shakespeare had joined forces to prettify the legend of Jesse James."-"The New York Times""The ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear that the novelist brings to his feat of imposture cannot be rated too high."-John Updike, "The New Yorker ""Carey succeeds in creating an account that not only feels authentic but also passes as a serious novel and solid, old-fashioned 'entertainment.' A big, meaty novel, blending Dickens and Cormac McCarthy with a distinctlyAustralian strain of melancholy."-"San Francisco Chronicle""Abravura performance.... Rewards the persistent reader with a powerful emotional experience."-"The Wall Street Journal ""Carey's pen writes with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas Jefferson and perhaps even a bodhisattva."-"Los Angeles Times""The power and charm of [this book] arise not from fidelity to facts but rather from the voice Carey invents for Ned Kelly...."-"Time""So adroit that you never doubt it's Kelly's own words you're reading in the headlong, action-packed story."-"Newsweek""This novel is worth our best attention."-"The" "Washington Post Book World ""An avalanche of a novel.... Cary has raised a national legend to the level of an international myth."-"Christian Science Monitor" "Packed with incident, alive with comedy and pathos . . . contains pretty much everything you could ask of a novel." -"TheNew York Times Book Review" "The ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear that the novelist brings to his feat of imposture cannot be rated too high." -John Updike, "The New Yorker""Carey's pen writes with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas Jefferson and perhaps even a bodhisattva." -"Los Angeles Times" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it but that doesn't mean you will. 10 Aug 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Yes it won the Booker price, and yes I loved it but its' important that you realise that there is no guarentee that you will enjoy it.
The written style is main thing to worry about. The narrators voice, Ned Kelly, can be a hard read. I've heard of people who have said that the found the books style a real grind to read and have never even finished the book. For me Ned Kelly's voice is utterly unique, free of the over intellectual prose of many authors. I was swept away, inside his head, into his world. I had never read anything like it.
It is clear Peter Carey has done a vast amount of research as well as made a massive leap of imagination. The gritty story is filled with tender and powerfully sad moments. It is certainly one of the most accomplished books I have read.
My advice, read a few pages or passages before you buy. If it you like the sound of it then go for it.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
This is a "western" which gallops to life, and the reader feels the grit, smells the dust, and agonizes with desperate characters as they are tossed every which way, not by their own deliberate decisions so much as by the unpredictability of their Australian frontier existence.
Ned Kelly, the Jesse James of Australia, becomes human here, not a monstrous blackguard so much as a man who is forced to make impossible choices. In this tale, which purports to be the hand-written autobiography he wants to leave for his baby daughter, we follow his childhood in poverty, his reluctant "apprenticeship" to the villainous Harry Powers, his cruel imprisonment by corrupt authorities, and his attempts to stay out of trouble upon his release. The judicial system's attack on his mother, however, becomes the catalyst for Ned's life in crime, a life which the reader understands could have been completely different, had authorities simply shown more compassion.
Carey is masterful in using small details to show contrasts and to make the big picture come alive. A new pair of soft boots achieves almost mystical significance--the ecstasy of their acquisition contrasting with the strength achieved through their sacrifice. "Fresh bread and jam...barley and mutton soup," served to Ned in jail, provide poignant contrast to the poorer, leaner fare on the farm. And a red silk dress becomes a symbol for corruption in one context and love in another.
This is a vigorous, exuberant, and uncompromising vision of wilderness life and death. It is the sensitive portrayal of a young man forced to make impossible decisions to save and protect his family. And it is a passionate love story told with a warmth and sympathy that is all the more poignant for its contrast with the murder and death which accompany it. Satisfying and rewarding on all levels.
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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Peter Carey has written an unusual novel that is put together as a series of letters written by Ned Kelly the famous Australian outlaw and bushranger, who became a national hero. It is presented as a raw, personal journal, written to a daughter he would never see. This is not only a very interesting concept but also provides a good insight into life in 19th century Australia. This novel is set in the desolate settler communities north of Melbourne, Victoria in the late 19th century, during a time when the first Irish settlers in Australia faced many hardships and struggles.

Peter's novel is basically a corrective to the popular conception, among some Australians, of Ned Kelly being a thug, thief and murderer. Ned's portrayal in this work is nothing less than a folk hero and freedom fighter, a defiant exemplar of Irish-Australian cussedness in the face of colonial oppression. 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 if necessary. Ned Kelly was executed by hanging for murder in 1880 in Melbourne, Victoria. In the end his mother served out her sentence in the same Melbourne prison where her son was hanged.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Adjectival Good Book!! 12 Feb 2002
To be honest I had not heard of Peter Carey before I had heard about this book. I bought the book and found I was completely drawn into this world of Australian settlers/immigrants lives in the mid 19 th century. Ned voice was given a clarity and such depth I found I could not put this book down. I did, however, find myself wanting to find out more of Ned, and his descendants....great book. I loved it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great if you don't need punctuation! 17 Oct 2001
By A Customer
This is a riveting story of the struggle of a family to survive in nineteenth-century Australia. It is told by Ned Kelly himself and the language is correspondingly unpolished with very little use of punctuation. After the first chapter or so, however, you stop noticing the language and get involved in the story. This book has been greatly hyped because of the Booker Prize but it's probably one you should judge for yourself. There's lots that's worth reading even if you're not Australian!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This were an adjectival superb book
It's not difficult to see why Peter Carey won the Booker Prize for this brilliant original novel in which he adopts the voice of Ned Kelly, from childhood to his ultimate capture... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dwight Braxton
5.0 out of 5 stars In his own words
I have read a lot of books about Ned Kelly over the years, TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG gives a real insight of Ned's life in his own words, an excellent read.
Published 2 months ago by Wade Seymour
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic, Evocative And Compelling
Peter Carey has been criticised in certain circles for 'lack of creativity’ in taking, first, Dickens’ Great Expectations as the basis for his 1997 novel Jack Maggs and then, here,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Keith M
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, though slow
As others have commented the book can be hard to read and can be difficult to get into, especially as it is over 400 pages long. Read more
Published 5 months ago by J. Lock
4.0 out of 5 stars Outlaw or Folk Hero
The True History of the Kelly Gang is written as a series of fictionalised autobiographical pieces. The novel traces Ned Kelly's story from childhood to execution using an... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Calypso
5.0 out of 5 stars An eyeopening history
I haven't read all of it, as it was a birthday present, but hope to borrow it to finish as it was fascinating.
Published 8 months ago by June Dawes
5.0 out of 5 stars True history of the Kelly gang
I absolutely loved this book, the author really portrays how hard it was for Ned and his family. I'm reading this for AS English, and I have never enjoyed writing a piece of... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Gem0639
3.0 out of 5 stars Needed for college
Required for college. Good service. Personally I had no problems with its delivery and with the product itself. :-) :-)
Published 10 months ago by Aleena
3.0 out of 5 stars good condition
my son has started reading this ready for his A level English course next year. The delivery and condition of the product was very good.
Published 11 months ago by Mrs Melanie Quinn
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Opens a window on what the early life of Victorian settlers and convicts in Australia was like and the way the Kelly's from Ireland were treated.
Published 12 months ago by Ronald Scott
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