“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 lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.”
In True History of the Kelly Gang, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semiliterate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer. To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged. Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.
There's no such thing as a typical Peter Carey novel. The Booker-winning Oscar and Lucinda (1988) was an eccentric epic set in the Australian outback, while Jack Maggs (1988) was an elegant ingenious literary deconstruction of Dickens' Great Expectations. His new novel, True History of the Kelly Gang is a remarkable achievement, and it rewards the persistent reader with a powerful emotional experience. The research is impressively detailed, and Mr. Carey rarely succumbs to the temptation to flaunt it. If you want punctuation and good grammer and a coherent point of view, then go read somebody else's book. But if you want the true history of the Kelly gang, this is it.