ILLYWHACKER by Peter Carey


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This new novel by the talented Australian writer (The Fat Man In History, 1980, and Bliss, 1981) clearly outlines the struggle for a national Australian identity. Even the title, Illywhacker, is a typically Australian slang term for a con-man or liar. Divided into three "books," the novel chronicles the life of Herbert Badgery, his lovers, his children, and his grandchildren. For over 500 pages we are somewhat entranced by this narrator who not only lies, but often believes the truth of his words, and eventually becomes caught in his own traps. Characters who begin with pronounced idiosyncracies develop into full-fledged lunatics: Badgery claims to be 139 years old; Molly McGrath wears an "electric chastity belt" to keep from going insane; an old Chinaman's amputated finger, kept in a vase, assumes various forms, including that of a fetus. It is a world where a woman quite naturally prefers to live in a cage, and a man's greatest talent is his ability to disappear by "making a dragon" with his body. The con-man's voice is an appropriate vehicle through which to penetrate the masks that people present to the world, and Carey's insights into human nature are sometimes startling. Unfortunately, such details also slow down the pace of the book; every detail, including the psychological causes and effects of the minutest action, must be fully explored. Overall, Carey proves himself an experimental writer par excellance, and the story is often delightful, but this remains a book only for the patient reader.
Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0679767908
Page count: 883pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1985


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