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Jack Maggs (1997)

by Peter Carey

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,611278,219 (3.66)148
The time, the 1830s. Jack Maggs, a foundling trained in the fine arts of thievery, cruelly betrayed and deported to Australia, has now reversed his fortunes - and seeks to fulfill his well-concealed, innermost desire. Returning "home" under threat of execution, he inveigles his way into a household in Great Queen Street, where he's quickly embroiled in various emotional entanglements - and where he falls under the hypnotic scrutiny of Tobias Oates, a celebrated young writer fascinated by the process of mesmerism and obsessed with the criminal mind. From this volatile milieu emerges a handful of vividly drawn characters in the dangerous pursuit of love, whether romantic or familial - each of them with secrets, and secret longings, that could spell certain ruin. And as their various schemes converge, the captivating figure at the center is Jack Maggs himself, at once frightening, mystifying, and utterly compelling.… (more)
  1. 10
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (PilgrimJess)
    PilgrimJess: Another modern take on Dickensian London.
  2. 00
    A tale of two countries: 'Jack Maggs' and Peter Carey's fiction.: An article from: Australian Literary Studies by Anthony J. Hassall (KayCliff)
  3. 00
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (KayCliff)
  4. 00
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (Sandwich76)
  5. 00
    Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (Laura400)
  6. 00
    Foe by J. M. Coetzee (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Post-Colonial novel appropriating classic characters and fictionalized versions of their creators.
  7. 00
    Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (suzecate)
    suzecate: both novels that revisit Great Expectations
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» See also 148 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
From the book jacket: [A] novel of Dickensian London .. the 1830s. Jack Maggs, a foundling trained in the fine arts of thievery, cruelly betrayed and deported to Australia, has now reversed his fortune – and seeks to fulfill his well-concealed, innermost desire. Returning “home” under threat of execution, he inveigles his way into a household in Great Queen Street, where he’s quickly embroiled in various emotional entanglements – and where he falls under the hypnotic scrutiny of Tobias Oates, a celebrated young writer fascinated by the process of mesmerism and obsessed with the criminal mind.

My reactions
I had heard that this was inspired by and perhaps even a retelling of Dickens’ Great Expectations. I can see similarities, though there is no Miss Havisham, and the focus is not on Pip but on Magwitch.

I did get quite caught up in Jack Maggs’s story and wondered a few times how Carey was going to wrap this up. The plot is definitely convoluted in places, with many twists and turns, though Maggs’s goal remains the same. I enjoyed the relationship between Maggs and Mercy, and the complication of Mercy’s relationship with her employer, Mr Buckle. But I felt Carey took a wrong turn by relying on Tobias Oates and his efforts at hypnotism / magnetism. And the subplot of Toby’s romantic entanglements did little to advance the story (other than providing some motivation for his final journey with Maggs).

Carey’s writing is very atmospheric, and the city of London is explored in some detail, especially the impoverished slums and criminal underbelly. ( )
  BookConcierge | May 23, 2021 |
I really enjoyed this book, and it was a better ending than most of Peter Carey novels I have read so far, but it still left a few things hanging. Overall a fun read. ( )
  curious_squid | Apr 5, 2021 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
2 vote 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"? ( )
1 vote PhilipJHunt | Mar 5, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
In ''Jack Maggs,'' Carey creates a rousing old-fashioned narrative, and brings to it a distinctly modern, unromantic sensibility.... Carey is not rewriting Dickens here but taking us behind the curtain of Dickens's creation. ''Jack Maggs'' stands in relation to ''Great Expectations'' as ''Great Expectations'' itself stands in relation to Dickens's life: it is a fictional extrapolation in which ''real'' events and sources are merely glimpsed; they have been transformed into something fresh, which defies one-to-one correspondences.
added by KayCliff | editNew York Times, Caryn James (Feb 8, 1998)
 
In Jack Maggs, Peter Carey has written a twentieth-century, post-colonial Dickens novel, in an imaginative and audacious act of appropriation. Jack Maggs is Carey's version of Magwitch, the convict in Great Expectations. Dickens's lovable Pip has been turned into Carey's unlovable Henry Phipps. The young Dickens appears as Tobias Oates, one of the novel's central characters, already famous for an early Pickwick-type work, the story of Captain Crumley, but as yet struggling for money, taking on what ever journalism he can get, his private life a mess, his great books far away in the future.

Carey's 1837 London, where most of the novel is set, is a brilliant Dickens pastiche, all 'sulphurous Corruption', glare and crowd and filth and dark corners, its buildings bursting with a violent life of their own. He gets exactly Dickens's effect of being in a phantasmagoric dream and yet in an overpoweringly real physical world. Eccentric minor characters rapidly appear and disappear.... It's a highly interesting combination of powerful style and weak characters. Through all the brilliant contrivance and literary panache comes a profound sadness, looking with tenderness at peculiar humans.
added by KayCliff | editGuardian, Hermione Lee (Sep 28, 1997)
 
With great panache, Carey executes an abundantly atmospheric and rollickingly entertaining reprise of Great Expectations.... Carey creates a vivid, multifaceted picture of 1800s London, especially the squalid and tormented lives of the poor and the criminal underclass.
 

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It was a Saturday night when the man with the red waistcoat arrived in London.
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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.
He feared poverty; he wrote passionately about the poor. He had nightmares about hanging; he sought out executions, reporting them with a magistrate's detachment.... Along the way, Carey raises larger questions about how writers prey on the lives of others.
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The time, the 1830s. Jack Maggs, a foundling trained in the fine arts of thievery, cruelly betrayed and deported to Australia, has now reversed his fortunes - and seeks to fulfill his well-concealed, innermost desire. Returning "home" under threat of execution, he inveigles his way into a household in Great Queen Street, where he's quickly embroiled in various emotional entanglements - and where he falls under the hypnotic scrutiny of Tobias Oates, a celebrated young writer fascinated by the process of mesmerism and obsessed with the criminal mind. From this volatile milieu emerges a handful of vividly drawn characters in the dangerous pursuit of love, whether romantic or familial - each of them with secrets, and secret longings, that could spell certain ruin. And as their various schemes converge, the captivating figure at the center is Jack Maggs himself, at once frightening, mystifying, and utterly compelling.

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