on 4 April 2008
Not sure what I was expecting when I bought this book, other than to say the synopsis caught my interest. The first pages didn't lead me to suspect it was going to reel me in as surely as it did. The protagonist was written superbly; a tough, scarred and tortured soul, a deported criminal forever exiled, sneaking back home to London in 1837 after the harshest years served in a penal colony in Australia and after having made his fortune. For thirty years Jack Maggs has been away, and now he's back on a mission.
Everything here worked splendidly, the mood, the many characters, the story's unfolding. Pointless making the Dickens comparison simply because it's Victorian England. Judge this tale on its own merits. It ended too quickly for me!
on 8 March 2008
I'd read "Oscar and Lucinda", but this book is far better; more pace, and stunningly atmospheric in its immersion in mid-19C London. Loads of historical details that take you back in time, not just in the 'history book' facts but also in the way people were and how they got through from day to day. Easy to read, fascinating interplay of human relationships. Superb!
"Listen carefully, fool. You do not have the devil's notion who you're dealing with."
I picked up this book on a whim, drawn by the cartoon on the front cover which is reminiscent of a Georgian satirical cartoon. I'm not quite sure what I expected from the book, but it tells the tale of Jack Maggs, returned to London in 1837 from criminal deportation to Australia some years earlier. There, he immediately sets about looking up some people who he clearly feels he needs to catch up with. We follow him on this journey as he finds himself a place with the oddly assorted bunch in the household of Percy Buckle Esq.
Quite what Jack Maggs might be up to in London is a bit of a mystery to us, but ever so slowly, layers of Jack and his previous life, and why he might be so interested in Mr Buckle's neighbours starts to become a little clearer. In the first months of 1837, the story of Jack Maggs, his past and his present come to a tremendous climax, where everybody he ever knew and everybody he has met since his return finally understand the true man behind the name.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; to me, it was like a union of Dickens and Thackeray; bitter, brutal, driven by characters for whom life was short and every day had to be lived to the full to their advantage. The motivations of the characters and the drive of Jack Maggs himself held me enthralled from the first page to the last. I was really sorry when I finished the book, as it was one of those books you read avidly to find out what happens next, but really wish there could be more when it's all over. Totally recommended to anyone who has read and enjoyed Dickens, Thackeray or Ainsworth.
Intriguing tweak of 'Great Expectations' as brutalized yet attractive Maggs returns home to meet up with the young gentleman he has been supporting all these years...
In his attempt to do so, he encounters one Tobias Oates, Carey's version of Dickens, a young writer struggling to make a living and in love with his wife's sister...
As Oates learns of Maggs' past, he seeks to use him as the subject of his next novel, gaining detailed information through the use of mesmerism:
'When he entered the soul of Jack Maggs, it was as if he had entered the guts of a huge and haunted engine. He might not yet know where he was, or what he knew, but he felt the power of that troubled mind like a great wind rushing through a broken window pane.'
I didn't think this equalled the sheer magic of 'Oscar and Lucinda' but it was a well-crafted work.
on 17 April 2012
i thoroughly enjoyed hearing this tale read expertly by Steven Crossley. he brought all the characters to life in a gripping story.
we first see jack maggs arriving in london as a man with a purpose who seems to be well in control of what he is about. very soon, though, events take twists and turns resulting in the lives of jack and others seeming to collapse unpredictably around them.
we feel their despair as they desperately seek ways forward for themselves.
for some in the story, there turns out to be an unexpected recovery and progress out of the mire they have got into, but not for others.
i very much recommend this audiobook.
Peter Carey’s 1997 tale of 19th century exiled convict, Jack Maggs, now returned to London in search of a 'long-lost son’, is a compelling tale of intrigue, family loyalty and (of all things) hypnotism, which (to a large extent) belies literary genre. Carey’s writing and, in particular, the narrative here reminds me most of Charles Dickens (in effect, a re-casting of Great Expectations), with its interlinked stories of family romance and betrayal, but very much a 'pared-down’ Dickens, without the lengthy exposition (and, it has to be said, much of the comedic elements of Dickens). What we’re left with, though, is a (relatively) fast-moving, almost thriller-like, plot, highly engaging characterisations and an evocative (despite the text’s relative descriptive brevity) depiction of 19th century London.
In his central character Carey has managed (rather like Dickens before him) to create a vivid amalgam of brutish cruelty and tempered humanity, whose self-obsessed 'mission’ is all-encompassing, but also a character laced with uncertainty and diffidence. It is this 'inner complexity’ in the Maggs character that attracts (and fascinates) author Tobias Oates to use Jack as his ‘experimental muse’ and forms the basis of the 'uncouth one’s’ romantic appeal to young housemaid Mercy Larkin. Carey’s novel is peppered with memorable characters, including Oates’ 'estranged’ wife, the aloof Mary, and her sister (and Tobias’ illicit love interest) the conflicted Lizzie, Mercy’s master the eccentric, and eventually vengeful, fish-seller Percy Buckle and other minor gems, such as Jack’s fellow footman, the 'put-upon’ Edward Constable.
Carey also paints a vivid picture of Jack’s back-story, as a teenage house-breaker, together with his 'adopted family’, and uses an unusual ‘plot device’ of narrating (in sequence) the same series of events from different character’s perspectives. And, although I felt that Carey’s tying up of the novel’s conclusion was rather abrupt (not to say, clumsy) it is a novel that comes highly recommended.
on 11 December 2001
A novel of the criminal mind like his later "True
history of the Ned Kelly gang", Peter Carey's "Jack Maggs" is also an earlier stage in his evolving of the recreation of a historical character. Here that character is Charles Dickens: indeed a large part of this novel is a
portrait of that artist by another hand. "Jack Maggs" also hearks back to "Oscar & Lucinda" with its meticulous preparation for catastrophe. Here
however we are treated to a eucatastrophe - JRR Tolkien & CS Lewis' word for a felix culpa, or happy accident - as the disaster is averted or at least mitigated by its benign effects.
Jack Maggs is a criminal, a Magwitch returned to
England to see how his Pip has prospered as a gentleman. More than the horror of the young man at descrying his benefactor is the horror of the
convict at seeing his creation. Jack's "son" is not much of a man and what there is of him is a
Truer hearts lie close to home, as Mercy Buckets fills her name & Lizzie fills a grave. Jack finds an unexpected - and unexpectedly insistent -ally in the girl next door, who insists on shielding him from the worst excesses of his
The Charles Dickens character - we are told he
engages in amateur dramatics presumably with such pals as the illustrator of "A Christmas Carol" - has two roles to fill: he is a catalyst for the hero and his foil, and he is also the object of study.
No recent book has given a more fluid inspection
of the creative act. Dickens - or Toby - collects not the mugs not the faces but the minds and
quirks of his neighbors, the people who people
his London. His use for Jack is as a treasure trove, a mother lode of the Criminal Mind. As he fills his notebook with transcriptions of Jack's talk and with invented (or reported) scenes, we find ourselves right alongside the novelist.
In a way, Peter Carey has put himself up against
Dickens in competition. Is Carey's picture - with his developing technique of letting the "criminal"
speak for himself, in diary journal & letter - a
truer one than Dickens' histrionic narration?
For all its London setting this is perhaps
Carey's most patriotically Aussie book: the convict is not the object of horror, seen infascination, but our neighbor, our friend, our hero, our self.
on 12 June 2001
Peter Carey's Jack Maggs.
This thrilling and original story, part historical novel and part literary fantasy, is one of the most exciting, erudite, and compulsively readable works of fiction to come along in recent years.
London, 1837. Jack Maggs, a foundling trained as a thief, betrayed and deported to a penal colony in Australia, has reversed his fortunes. Under threat of execution he returns to London after twenty years of exile to try to fulfill his well-concealed heart's desire. Masquerading as a footman, Maggs places himself in the rather eccentric household of Percy Buckle, Esquire. But when the unlikely footman comes under the scrutiny of the brilliant and unscrupulous young novelist Tobias Oates, an enthusiastic dabbler in mesmerism, Maggs's secrets are revealed and he is forced to take desperate, sometimes violent action. A powerful and unusual homage to Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, Jack Maggs displays all of Peter Carey's broad historical and artistic knowledge, his masterful command of character, and his powerful moral vision.
Fulfilling Expectations Peter Carey's new novel, Jack Maggs, spins an enthralling variation on a Dickens classic
Banished for life to New South Wales, a convict eventually returns to 19th century London, risking hanging if the law discovers him, all because he wants to see Henry Phipps, the young English gentleman he has "made" by sending money from abroad. Does that premise sound familiar? It will to those who have read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and remember Pip's turmoil when he learns that his elevation in society has been financed by the fearsome felon Abel Magwitch. The novel being described here, however, is Peter Carey's Jack Maggs. What the dickens is Dickens' plot doing in Carey's new fiction?
Nothing very promising, those familiar with postmodernist literary and largely sterile ironies might guess. In this instance, they would be wrong. For one thing, it is not necessary to know a single word of Great Expectations to have a fine, suspenseful time reading Jack Maggs. Carey takes a cue from Dickens but then ad-libs an original and freestanding performance, replete with the sorts of twists and shocks and coincidences that originally gave page turners a good name. And those readers who retain a clear sense of Dickens' novel will encounter a trove of subtle allusions, not just to the 19th century author's life and works but also to the predatory relationship between an inventor of tales and the real-life subjects who find themselves grist for this creative mill.
Jack Maggs' search for Henry Phipps bumps into an immediate obstacle: Phipps is not to be found at the house where Maggs' money installed him. So the convict takes an expedient job as a footman at the house next door, the better to spot Phipps when he returns. Very quickly--Carey mimes perfectly the Victorian novelist's skill at making the implausible seem inevitable--Maggs comes to the attention of one of his master's dinner guests, the rising young author Tobias Oates. When Maggs, serving the wine, collapses from the pain of a tic douloureux in his cheek, Oates volunteers to relieve the servant's anguish by mesmerizing, i.e., hypnotizing, him. Maggs, a man desperate to keep secrets, is at the mercy of Oates, a man avid to exploit them.
The struggle between Maggs and Oates, a character obviously based on Dickens and lacking only the original's extenuating genius, forms the stem of Carey's plot. But, as befits a mock-19th century novel, there are many fascinating exfoliations. All of Carey's major characters come equipped with vivid childhoods--not just Maggs, thrown on a Thames mud flat as an infant and adopted in order to be trained as a thief, or Oates, humiliated and impoverished young by a feckless father. There is also Mercy Larkin, who befriends Maggs and who was sent into prostitution when barely more than a child by her own mother.
Because of the publishing mores of his time, Dickens could not write directly about prostitutes or abortionists or homosexuals, although coded references to them could be discerned by those in the know. In Jack Maggs, Carey breaks the old code and produces something wonderfully new.
on 6 January 2007
I've always had a fondness for crime novels set in Victorian London (the book is set in the first year of her reign actually), but few of the many I've read can equal 'Jack Maggs' for the quality of its plot, characters, and language.
This is one of those rare books where you're torn between the constant urge to read on and the awareness that this selfsame act unfortunately brings you ever closer to the end.
Confession time - after my latest re-reading of "Great Expectations" I succumbed to the promise that Jack Maggs would tell the back story of the enigmatic convict turned benefactor of Dickens' great work - and I'm usually very sniffy about the genre, particularly of the Austen/Bronte ilk.
What "Jack Maggs" actually turns out to be, is a superbly crafted and adeptly told tale of a tortured soul returning to England, with characters very reminiscent of Magwitch, Pip and even Dickens himself, which flavour a satirical take on early 19th century London, told from an acerbic colonial's viewpoint. By about a quarter the way through, I was hooked on the book on its own merits, rather than a pastiche (though one thing I missed were Dickens' extravagant character names, Carey's are very utilitarian by comparison!)
Excellent, thought provoking, and all the better that Jack Maggs gets a happier ending than Magwitch!