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.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Peter Carey received the Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda and again for True History of the Kelly Gang. His other honors include the Commonwealth Prize and the Miles Franklin Award. Born in Australia, he has lived in New York City for 20 years. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
May 23rd fell cold and dark there were no moon. I stood on the front veranda of a shanty in the Oxley shire but it gave no protection from the bitter wind the heavy rain were in my face and splashing off the muddy floor. I did severely miss the sweet dry fug of my home but I were still Power^Rs unpaid dogsbody ordered to keep the watch for policemen although God only knows how the traps could of reached us in this torrent the King River Bridge were 2 ft. under and groaning in the current. I were v. tired and fed up with my life.
The poor sniphorse off the Buckland Coach were sheltering with me under the veranda she had been fired on by the squatter Dr Rowe and were now wounded. It were Harry^Rs fault there were no reason to take her from that dull and honest coachhorse life her great heart pounding on the daily climb up the mountains the drear cycle of ceaseless labour must seem sweet enough to her now. She had taken the bullet high in her shoulder and when she cooled would certainly be lame for good. Thence only death a sledgehammer between her blindfolded eyes such is life.
Inside the shanty were much laughing and singing the shadows flitting across the curtains. Harry Power were dancing I heard not a word about the bunions he otherwise were whingeing about night and day. I never knew a man to make such a fuss about his feet. Feet & bowels never ceasing bowels & feet. My 1st job each soggy morning were to find them blackberry roots for his bowels thank Jesus he ministered to his smelly bunions by himself. He had a red string with 7 knots he must wind in a particular way around his inflamed joint then recite the following:
Bone to bone blood to blood
And every sinew in its proper place
The sniphorse pissed forlornly on the muddy floor I could smell bacon frying inside the shanty but none had been sent out to me. I were working myself into a temper on this point when the door swung open it were Harry Power holding a red hot coal in a pair of blacksmith^Rs tongs. Beside him come the landlord^Rs big chested wife she had narrow hips like a boy and very pretty hands in which she carried a sugar bowl. She were tipsy laughing pretending to fall against the famous bushranger.
Hold the horse Ned Kelly said he I did not thank him that he used my name in front of witnesses. Only 2 days previous he had caused Dr Rowe of Mount Battery Station to clearly see my face. We was lying on the rock above his paddock looking for a more spirited replacement for the sniphorse. Rowe were a cunning old fox he crept up beside us and let off a shot which kicked up the dust in front of my nose. I would of surrendered there and then but were more afraid of Harry than of the squatter thus we made this mad rush riding 2 days into the face of the storm arriving on this veranda drenched to the bone I were whipped and cut across the face by myall scrub my lip consequently swollen as if I had been thrashed.
Now the landlord^Rs wife give Harry Power the sugar he sprinkled it onto the red hot coal.
Hold the effing horse he says to me.
I took the bridle while Harry encouraged the smoking coal to pass over the horse^Rs wound I had seen this remedy practised by the Quinns and Lloyds but Harry were drunk so he placed the coal too near the skin I could smell the burning hair. The 1st time she were burnt the horse kicked but the 2nd time she reared and I couldnt hold her she broke through the bark roof of the veranda. Of this damage to the shanty Harry seemed oblivious. There he said that^Rll fix you girl. That were a lie because the ball were buried too deep it had gone to a place no smoke could reach.
To me he said he would soon send out some tucker.
I^Rll come inside said I.
O you will will you?
There aint no point in watching here I said unless the traps is coming in an adjectival ship.
For answer I got a mighty clout across the head I took a swing back at him. This he would not brook he grabbed me by the bawbles.
You want to fight me boy?
While the landlady watched he squeezed my bawbles till I could not help but cry out with pain and having wrung that humiliation from me he turned his back and took his girlfriend back inside. I calmed down the frightened horse swearing this would be my last adventure with the famous Harry Power.
By and by the door opened it werent Harry the stranger were more like a farmer with his powerful sloping shoulders and heavy arms but he bore no greater burden than a glass of liquor which he offered though I never liked the smell.
Too strong for you boy? He were a so called handsome man a neat beard framing his naked face. You want some lemonade in it?
He were watching me very close a smile playing round his lips so I sipped to show I could of drunk it if I wished.
Your ma is very partial to that drink I^Rm sure you know it.
Very partial said he.
All my childhood there were always some man thought he could tell stories about my mother he rested his back against the veranda post and grinned.
You know Bill Frost?
I admitted the connection. Thats a chap who is awful partial to his rum and cloves. He made it sound so dirty I were embarrassed laying my face against the mare^Rs cold wet neck and stroking her but still the man would not cease.