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My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

My Life as a Fake (2003)

by Peter Carey

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1,151317,081 (3.33)38
Recently added byJim_Sheire, x_hoxha, Shaughnessy, nicoelston, KelMunger, private library, ruud, srr-library
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An exceptional novel from Peter Carey. It's even better than the amazing True History of the Kelly Gang. I can not recommend it too highly. A dazzler. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
My first thought on starting this book with its ye-olde, unevenly cut pages but modern, trendy abolition of quotation marks round direct speech was that the title was apt – there was a fake quality to the production. I was seriously annoyed at times at the lack of immediate clarity from the lack of quotation marks which, like all punctuation marks, are intended to add ease to reading. Yes, I could go back a few words when I’d set off on the wrong foot, but it just seemed so unnecessary.

While in this vein I also disliked the way the story kept developing backwards so that we gradually learn what had happened while the forward motion of the book is pretty stagnant. Carey seems to try to generate suspense when he has the narrator, Sarah Wode-Douglass says clichéd things like ‘I felt the hairs rise on my neck’. Carey seems fond of neck hair, repeating the phrase to describe Chubb’s reaction to McCorkle calling him ‘dear Father’ so that ‘he felt the hairs rise on his neck’.

This leads on to another aspect of the book I found hard to accept. It appears that we’re dealing with magic realism, a genre used in two of my favourite books, Miller’s ‘Ingenious Pain’ and Knox’s ‘The Vintner’s Luck’ but I don’t think Carey handles it well since he has the narrator gullibly accepting Chubb’s story of how his creation McCorkle came alive and how she wanted to get her hands on some of the poems even after Chubb had been exposed for duping a previous editor. In other words, I can accept Chubb’s professed reaction to being confronted by his creation: ‘It was not the last time Chubb would be brought trembling to the abyss, where he might consider the blasphemous possibility that he had, with his own pen, created blood and bone and a beating heart’ but I’d expected similar caution from Micks.

I also felt I detected some animosity from Carey towards Australia. I remember from a while back he was particularly touchy about issues to do with his nationality. So, rather oddly in a book with exotic aspects one way or another, he refers to the Lindy Chamberlain case as a contrast to the way Chubb doesn’t get convicted of child murder where she did. This little comparison seemed to me just to be Carey taking the opportunity to have a go at the country where he lived for most of the first 47 years of his life. Yes, there’s a lot to criticise in Australia (not the least at present being the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers), but I didn’t feel Carey incorporated criticisms in any sort of intrinsic way.

Still, there were parts I enjoyed, even only momentarily. For example, when Chubb loses the baby and is in shock and asks to sit down in the kitchen we find ‘Mr Blackhall consulted his watch and then fetched him a chair’. As there was no reason for Mr Blackhall to consult his watch, it effectively and amusingly indicates his reluctance to show any sympathy for his lodger.

I can’t say, though, that I found much to ponder on in this story inspired by the Ern Malley hoax – perhaps it’s because of its origins that the novel seems devoid of anything substantial to me. ( )
  evening | Feb 11, 2014 |
I found this a hard book to get into. Fake poet mysteriously come to life, golem like tracking his creator through Australia and Malaysia, living his life vicariously and sucking the vitality and creative juices out of him. The story is told by a parasitic literary critic and editor from London, after a story to keep her literary life afloat. it's not a likeable book - all the characters are in their different ways selfish and self serving; the landscape and environment veers from lush to urban, but is always defiantly alien.
  otterley | Dec 4, 2013 |
I like that it's based (very loosely) on a real situation, and the story was interesting, but I did not care for the way it was written. ( )
  amyolivia | Oct 25, 2013 |
The story is loosely based on a hoax perpetrated by two young Australian writers in the early 1940s. These two writers, James McCauley and Harold Stewart did not agree with the tenets of modern poetry. They not only disliked the lack of craftmanship in modern poetry, such as that of T.S. Eliot, but also were jealous of the success of Max Harris, another young poet who was successfully publishing a poetry journal called "Angry Penguins."

One day they decide to teach Harris a lesson. They made up 17 'modern' poems using random words and phrases from the Oxford English Dictionary and other books. They send them to Harris with a letter from a woman claiming to be the sister of the author of the poems who found them going through her husband's things after his death. When Harris received the poems, he declares he's discovered a new great poet. He immediately releases a special issue of "Angry Penguins;" he even commissions a special cover from a famous Australian painter.

The novel has a story line much more convoluted, complex and sometimes confusing. Sarah Wode-Douglass is the editor of a poetry journal in the U.K. She meets at one party John Slater, the best known British poet of the day, who she's known since she was a child- he is 20 years her senior and she think he had an affair with her mother that led to her suicide. Somehow he convinces her to travel with him to Kuala Lumpur where she meets Christopher Chubb, who fixes bicycles, lives in poverty with a Chinese woman and a younger girl. Chubb claims he has the writings of Robert McCorkle, the 'fake' poet. We see Sarah chasing and looking for Chubb trying to figure out what he really has. We are not sure if McCorkle is real or fake- Chubb makes him sound as real. Sarah is trying to find Chubb while Chubb is trying to find McCorkle.

In the end, both of Chubb's women kill him. While Sarah, and the reader, isn't sure if McCorkle killed him- but is McCorkle a real person? The book purportedly written by McCorkle remains in their hands. Sarah goes back to England and remains unsure of McCorkle's existence. ( )
  xieouyang | Jul 5, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375414983, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:46 -0400)

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Accompanying the arrogant poet, John Slater, to Malaysia, London editor Sarah Wode-Douglass finds herself obsessively drawn to a mysterious manuscript that bears a legacy of fraud and danger.

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