Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: "Illywhacker" by Peter Carey

The difference between this, the second novel of lauded Australian novelist Peter Carey, Illywhacker, and his most famous one, Oscar and Lucinda, is quite large. It has been a while since I have read Oscar and Lucinda (about four years), but I remember how little of an impression it made on me. It wasn’t bad, and I won’t argue its many awards, but it just wasn’t for me. This novel, while slightly better is tons more interesting than what came later. In the front flap of the first American edition, the book is compared favorably to Thomas Pynchon’s V, and while this book is better than that one, it is an accurate comparison given this books faults and qualities. It is a weird tale, unlike many other novels, but it becomes dependent on its offbeat characters and shenanigans to the point where it was hard for me to distinguish what was a joke and what as serious, and what the book was really trying to be about. The central character, the Illywhacker (an Australian term for a con man), is one Herbert Badgery, who claims to be upwards of 130 years old, although he gives us little hope that this, or anything in the novel is true. The book details his journeys in early 20th century Australia. From his brief marriage to a woman named Phoebe, that produces a son named Charles, and his lifelong relationship with a woman named Leah Goldstein, his unfortunate soul mate. Carey really goes for broke in this novel, describing events that are low brow and hilarious, sometimes involving reptiles. But it can get old after a while, and the reader may be begging for some kind of sense and logic halfway through the 600 page length. But I found a surprising, cheeky joy in all of this book’s insanity, capped off by a truly bizarre ending that left me scratching my head, yet satisfied. Carey is still going strong into his 70’s, and this is a perfect, if a bit long, place to start. 
Rating: 4/5

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