Peter Carey My Life as a Fake

ISBN 13: 9780141805191

My Life as a Fake

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9780141805191: My Life as a Fake

Sarah Wode-Douglas is an aristocratic English-woman who has made her living in the cloistered world of literary London as the editor of the poetry magazine First Proof, until she impulsively follows a family friend, poet John Slater, across the world to Kuala Lumpur. Temporarily abandoned by the chaotic Slater she encounters yet another poet, Christopher Chubb; an enigmatic wreck of a man whose terrible secrets Sarah is compelled to discover and pursue. As Chubb's labyrinthine story of forgery, deceit and horror starts to emerge, the towering seven-foot figure of Bob McCorkle, both a figment, and an all-too-evident fact, starts to haunt the landscape of the novel, and the imagination of the reader.

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Review:

Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake is a literate mystery of forgeries and doppelgangers with a fictional manuscript at its heart. The mystery--the origin of a brilliant but purportedly faked poem--fuels a whirlwind pursuit through Australia and across the wilds of Malaysia. Grappling with her own childhood demons, Carey's bibliophile sleuth, Sarah Wode-Douglass, sometimes becomes lost in the exotic and bloody chase.

The novel opens as Sarah, the reluctant tourist and editor of The Modern Review, is dragged by a foppish poet-friend, John Slater, to Kuala Lumpur. Sarah is intent on biding her time in her hotel, but a chance encounter with a scabrous reader of Rilke soon transforms Sarah's plans and, ultimately, her life. The reader, the Australian poet Christopher Chubb, is the disgraced initiator of a great literary hoax--the faked poems of the non-existent Bob McCorkle. The McCorkle hoax was Chubb's attempt to bring down a rising poetry editor, David Weiss. When the hoax was exposed, Weiss was believed to have committed suicide. But, living in exile, Chubb has hidden a secret for decades: Bob McCorkle had seemingly materialized in human form, killing Weiss and destroying Chubb's life. Sarah is tantalized by a fragment of supposed McCorkle poetry that Chubb has shared with her. Whether it is a fake or the work of a madman, Sarah believes it is genius. Her obsession, however, drives her and Chubb to the precipice of self-destruction.

The primary story--Chubb's pursuit of McCorkle--lives in the fictional past, and the plot occasionally becomes muddled in the nest of narrators recalling conversations second or third hand. In playing out the McCorkle affair, Carey’s denouement comes too quickly. If Sarah is transformed, Carey doesn't reveal enough of her in the text. He is mesmerized, as is the reader, by Chubb's horrific tale.

With its small shortcomings, the novel offers a sophisticated interrogation of authorship and fakery and the power of art. Carey avoids simplifying the McCorkle mystery, leaving the reader to puzzle out McCorkle's bizarre incarnation. While My Life as a Fake is frequently entertaining, the atmospheric mystery occasionally glimpses the profound. --Patrick O'Kelley

From the Back Cover:

Praise for True History of the Kelly Gang
“Carey has transformed sepia legend into brilliant, even violent, colour, and turned a distant myth into warm flesh and blood. Packed with incident, alive with comedy and pathos, True History of the Kelly Gang contains pretty much everything you could ask of a novel.”
-- The New York Times Book Review

“A tour-de-force. . . . Kelly’s rough-necked, tender, funny, lyrical and engaging personality shines through.”
-- National Post

“This is a book born of bone, blood and beauty, as well as piercing social and historical insight. If there is a better novel written in English this year, it will need to be very, very good indeed: for here is a voice that will not let go.”
-- Ottawa Citizen

"Complex and masterful . . . A few lines from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein preface Carey's novel, and the dark themes of that story pulse with fresh vigor through the veins of My Life as a Fake . . . Carey's prose is sparse but sharp throughout his story, never missing its target and not taking long to get there . . . Like Shelley so many years earlier, Carey has created a haunting story whose surreal events are as captivating and memorable as the misguided aspirations of its characters."
--Thomas Haley, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
"This hall of mirrors reads like the impossible offspring of a fictional ménage-à-trois involving Pale Fire, Lord Jim, and Our Man in Havana . . . Carey never lets anything fall, and he pitches us into an entirely implausible and yet compelling tale . . . a world of pirates, snakes, Japanese atrocities, poisoned melons, feudal rivalries, boarding schools, demons, bugs, and a carefully preserved manuscript . . . This is a fabulous book in the original sense of the term--and in the other one, too."
--Michael Gorra, The Atlantic Monthly
 
"Spellbinding . . . a shrewd and seductive inquiry into the diabolical dimension of the imagination . . . Carey is a wily and enthralling storyteller."
--Booklist
 
“Carey’s corker of a plot (with echoes of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) delivers surprise after surprise and peaks with a masterly extended set-piece that pits Chubb vs. “McCorkle” in the steaming hotbed of (then) Malaya under Japanese occupation. Issues of artistic interpretation, integrity, and authenticity are thus brilliantly allegorized in a wonderland of yam, of which (the note entirely veracious) Slater declares ‘He [i.e., Chubb] will drag you into his delusional world, have you believing the most preposterous things.
"So will Peter Carey, God bless him. A Nabokovian masterpiece.”
--Kirkus Reviews

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