Carey has written several fine contemporary novels, but his genius always seems especially invigorated by an encounter with...

TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG

Booker Prize–winner Carey (Jack Maggs, 1998, etc.) assumes the voice of 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

The story opens with an account of the Kelly gang’s capture by police on June 28, 1880, so we know this tale will end badly for the most famous of the “bushrangers,” who expressed the rage felt by many poor Australians, especially those who were, like Kelly, descended from Irish convicts, against English political and economic oppression. Ned’s first-person narrative is addressed to the daughter he’s never seen (her pregnant mother fled to America rather than witness his inevitable death) in run-on prose that faultlessly reproduces the speech rhythms of the uneducated without becoming distracting. Describing his youth, Kelly claims the early charges against him were largely fabricated by vengeful police with a grudge against his mother’s family. Her son adores Ellen Quinn Kelly, never judging her for the men she takes up with after his father abandons her (though he hates them all), or even for apprenticing him to bushranger Harry Power when he’s only 15. Landing in jail shortly thereafter, Ned writes, “I knew I were finally in that place ordained from the moment of my birth.” We quickly learn that the basically good-hearted Ned is a mediocre criminal and poor judge of character: his gang includes reckless younger brother Dan; Steve Hart, intoxicated by the self-destructive legends of Irish rebellion; and opium-addicted Joe Byrne, whose pipe companion betrays them to the police. Though their first robbery nets enough money to get them all safely to America, Ned suicidally refuses to leave. Our naive hero thinks he can get his mother out of jail by addressing long, self-justifying letters to the authorities. Not a chance, of course, but there’s a rough, poetic grandeur to Ned’s belief that “we had showed the world what convict blood could do. We proved there were no taint we was of true bone blood and beauty born.”

Carey has written several fine contemporary novels, but his genius always seems especially invigorated by an encounter with the past, as in this sorrowful, bleakly beautiful meditation on his native Australia’s poisoned history.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-41084-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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