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Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

Jack Maggs (original 1997; edition 1997)

by Peter Carey

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1,409255,375 (3.65)125
Title:Jack Maggs
Authors:Peter Carey
Info:Faber and Faber (1997), Edition: 2nd Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, Australian fiction, Published in 1997, Published in the 1990s, Published in the 20th century, Commonwealth Writers Prize overall winner, Read in 2012, Read in Cashel

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Jack Maggs by Peter Carey (1997)

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Magwitch meets Dickens
By sally tarbox on 13 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback
Intriguing tweak of 'Great Expectations' as brutalized yet attractive Maggs returns home to meet up with the young gentleman he has been supporting all these years...
In his attempt to do so, he encounters one Tobias Oates, Carey's version of Dickens, a young writer struggling to make a living and in love with his wife's sister...
As Oates learns of Maggs' past, he seeks to use him as the subject of his next novel, gaining detailed information through the use of mesmerism:
'When he entered the soul of Jack Maggs, it was as if he had entered the guts of a huge and haunted engine. He might not yet know where he was, or what he knew, but he felt the power of that troubled mind like a great wind rushing through a broken window pane.'
I didn't think this equalled the sheer magic of 'Oscar and Lucinda' but it was a well-crafted work. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
Jack Maggs, a person shrouded in great mystery, returns home to London and ends up unexpectedly installing himself as a servant in the home of the nouveau riche Mr. Buckle. He soon finds himself a subject of "mesmerism" experiments at the hands of Mr. Buckle's acquaintance, Mr. Tobias Oates - a blossoming author who hopes his next bestseller will be a novel based on the experiences of Maggs - particularly his past as a convict exiled to an Australian penal colony.

It's hard for me to rate and review this book as usual. For one thing, it wasn't at all what I expected. When I first read the description of the book provided by the publisher - one that emphasizes the mesmerism aspect - I expected perhaps a magical realism-type book (like Carey's My Life as a Fake) or something akin to a pseudo-scientific novel steeped in the Victorian period's mystical beliefs. It turns out the mesmerism part isn't really as much a theme or bulk of the novel as a concise description of the book would lead you to believe. Then, in between me reading the description and actually getting my hands on a copy of the book, I discovered that Jack Maggs is considered a "parallel novel" with Great Expectations. I got super excited because I am a huge Dickens fan, and I thought that given my past readings of Carey's works, he would be great at re-working some classic Dickens. Turns out, this was a bit of an overstatement as well. Sure, there are similarities between Abel Magwitch and Jack Maggs, Henry Phipp is clearly a stand in for Pip (although there is really not a resemblance between the two characters), and there are even shades of Dickens himself in Toby Oates. But to call this book a re-imagining of Great Expectations is a bridge too far; at best, it draws some influences from the classic novel. And to make a not-so-witty pun, my great expectations for this book were subsequently unmet.

Onwards to the book itself ... I had some difficulty getting into it because I felt like there was never a clear sign of the path it was taking. In terms of a succinct plot, certainly there was no clarity. The book took so many sharp turns and then re-tracings that I spent at least the first half (probably the first three-quarters) just trying to figure out if I was reading a book about the writing of a book, the unmasking of a convict, the search for a lost son, family dramas, or the capture of past memories. It seemed the book was a little of each (by no means in an order that made sense) but without any of them ever being satisfactorily resolved. The many, many references to the past (as well as some to the future) dropped hints here and there, but I felt like large parts of the story being told were simply dropped off. For instance, why did Sophina end up married to Jack's "brother"? Why did Henry Phipps fear meeting his benefactor so much that he immediately flew into hiding? And so forth and so on.

For the positives, Carey does write some very Dickensian-like characters, with interesting names, unique markers, and rich backstories. He also writes numerous passages that are things of pure beauty - rich and evocative in language, and heavy with symbolism. And I wouldn't say that I disliked the book per se, so much that I was disappointed by it not being what I expected and for having a 'plot' that was too distracted and all over the place. I am a little surprised that this book won a place on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list and seems to have largely glowing reviews. Perhaps there is something I'm just missing, but this isn't my favorite book by Carey. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Feb 7, 2016 |
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 |
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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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