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Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

Jack Maggs (1997)

by Peter Carey

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1,374245,562 (3.67)120
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Almost 20 years since publication, "Jack Maggs" retains its freshness. Its setting, in the increasingly remote and therefore increasingly romantic, past of Australian history helps (although footnote to readers, the novel is located in London). Carey plots like an engineer--a Lego-like certainty stepping the story along. The title character is not immediately likeable, nor indeed is one sure at first whether the novel is really about Mr Maggs. Perhaps the central character is one of the others to whom we are introduced. The story unfolds in layers with Maggs the vortex around which the drama swirls with increasing disturbance.

It's a story about the dark side of nostalgia, and of finding redemption in unpredicted outcomes. It's an easy read apart from the need to look up the occasional term long since fallen out of common use. I learned some new words, although few useful for modern conversation. When, for instance, did you last call your fruiterer a "costermonger"? ( )
  PhilipJHunt | Mar 5, 2015 |
A stunning retake of Great Expectations, written by a consumate novelist with a deep appreciation for the 'colonies' whence Jack Maggs came. I liked the slightly different ending, which I won't spoil, but so much of the book is closely based on the classic tale of a 'criminal' benefactor. As is usual with Carey, this was so easy to read and the character portrayals were excellent. Jack was multi-dimensional enough to be sympathetic, Buckle contained hidden menace and Oates simply overreached himself with his sparkling ambition. ( )
  notmyrealname | Jan 23, 2014 |
Increasingly desperate characters are thrown together by chance in late Georgian/early Victorian London. Their desires and fates soon become so intertwined that it becomes impossible for any of them to extricate themselves from their present situation. Their power struggle results in events spiraling out of control toward an unavoidable crash. The only question seems to be how badly things will end.

Peter Carey imagines a back story for characters from Great Expectations. While alert readers will spot the connections, this isn't a retelling of Dickens' novel. I would suggest that the strongest similarity is in the characterization. Like Dickens, Carey paints memorable characters, all flawed to some degree, yet all human enough to arouse the reader's sympathy. I raced through the last third of the book, anxious to see how it would end. Recommended for most readers of historical fiction. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Dec 17, 2013 |
On a drizzly spring evening in 1837, the mysterious figure known as Jack Maggs makes his long-awaited return to London. Where he has been and why he has returned we do not know yet, but the first few pages of Jack Maggs are a delight to read, capturing the sights, sounds and smells of Dickensian London, and Maggs’ disorientation as he returns to a city he does not recognise, lit now with gas light: “The city had become a fairground, and as the coach crossed the river at Westminster the stranger saw that even the bridges of the Thames were illuminated.”

‘Dickensian’ is usually used alongside ‘Victorian’ to describe a particular era of the 19th century, but here it’s even more appropriate: Jack Maggs is a reimagining of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, with Maggs being a version of the convict character Magwitch. He has escaped from New South Wales to find his beloved Henry Phipps (Pip) and tell him his story – but Phipps may not want to be found.

It’s a common trait, I think, for people to partition history into segments, and also think back on the history of particular places as being self-contained. We know that 18th century Britain gave birth to the convict colonies of Australia, but the idea of them existing at the same time – for them being anything other than a one-way dumping ground – is fuzzy. And so it’s always a pleasure, I find, particularly in Peter Carey’s writing, to see the two worlds collide. Australia sheds its image (in my mind and many other Australians’ minds) as a dull and unimportant backwater and instead becomes a mysterious, exotic place. Most of the novel takes place in the upper-class dining rooms and parlours of Covent Garden and Bloomsbury, and it’s always pleasingly strange when Carey calls Maggs “the Australian” or mentions memories of Maggs’ time there – pelicans and parrots, his reliable old boots from a cobbler in Parramatta, or the dreaded prison at Morton Bay.

I haven’t read any Dickens at all, but it’s a mark of Carey’s brilliance as a writer that he can revisit old stories and classics and reimagine them without alienating an uninformed reader. You don’t need to have read Great Expectations to enjoy Jack Maggs, just as you don’t need to know anything about Ned Kelly to enjoy True History of the Kelly Gang or (I imagine) be familiar with the writings of Tocqueville to enjoy Parrot and Olivier in America.

I didn’t enjoy Bliss, I originally said True History of the Kelly Gang was “the product of a slow year for the Booker Prize” only to have it grow stronger in retrospect, and I was sometimes bored during Oscar and Lucinda but knew upon completing it that it was a great novel. Jack Maggs was a novel I thoroughly enjoyed (though it lacks the overall, retrospective solidity of Carey’s two Booker Prize winners), and I think Carey is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I’d certainly agree with those who call him Australia’s greatest living writer. ( )
  edgeworth | Nov 12, 2013 |
The best novel I have read in a while. Great characters, good plot, good dialogue. I really liked it. ( )
  Fernhill | Aug 20, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679760377, Paperback)

As a novelist, Peter Carey is hardly a stranger to the 19th century: his Oscar and Lucinda was a veritable treasure-trove of Victoriana. In this novel, however, Carey has set himself an even more complicated task--reimagining not only a vanished era but one of that era's masterpieces. Jack Maggs is a variation on Great Expectations, in which Dickens's tale is told from the viewpoint of Australian convict Abel Magwitch. The names, it's true, have been tinkered with, but the book's literary paternity is unmistakable. So, too, is the postcolonial spin that Carey puts on Dickens's material: this time around, the prodigal Maggs is perceived less as an invading alien than a righteous (if not particularly welcome) refugee.

Of course, rewriting a page-turner from the past offers some major perils, not the least of them being comparisons to the original. Carey, however, more than withstands the test of time, alluding to the formality of Victorian prose without ever bending over backward to duplicate it. In addition, his eye for physical detail--and the ways in which such details open small or large windows onto character--is on par with that of Dickens. Here, for example, he pins down both the body and soul of a household servant: "Miss Mott was lean and sinewy and there was nowhere much for such a violent shiver to hide itself. Consequently it went right up her spine and disappeared inside her little white cap and then, just when it seemed lost, it came out the other side and pulled up the ends of her thin mouth in a grimace." Throw in a wicked mastery of period slang, a subplot about Victorian mesmerism (of which Dickens was, in fact, a practitioner), and an amazing storytelling gift, and you have a novel which meets and exceeds almost any expectation one might bring to it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:18 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A novel on hypnosis set in 19th century London. The protagonist is Jack Maggs, an English convict who returns from Australia. He suffers from painful spasms, attributed to his criminal nature, and an attempt is made to cure him, using the new science of mesmerism.… (more)

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