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2.0 out of 5 starsFascinating Story - Laborious Read
Reviewed in the United States on April 9, 2019
I love novels about outlaw gangs, and I have read a number of them recently: <i>Whiskey When We're Dry</i>, <i>The Winter Family</i>, and <i>The Heavenly Table</i>, so I was excited to read this one about Ned Kelly. I found the story interesting and ultimately touching, but it was not a pleasant, smoothly flowing read. I'm sure the author captures how the uneducated Ned Kelly really would have written - but with five or six sentences strung together without periods, the reading was a slow process. Ironically, the real Ned Kelly might not have used ANY periods. Indeed, I have read letters of that time in history with NO periods, so I don't think the prose is even a totally accurate reconstruction of how Ned might have written. Instead, the prose is quite irritating,
4.0 out of 5 starsLayers and layers between this book and the "true history."
Reviewed in the United States on May 24, 2014
Initially unaware that both books were short-listed for the Booker in 2001, I read True History of the Kelly Gang shortly after finishing McEwan's Atonement. I find it interesting that the role of the author is at such issue in both books. Thankfully, the two authors take markedly different approaches.
Carey's novel is apparently a fictional enlargement of something actually written by Ned Kelly, a notorious nineteenth century Australian outlaw. For those whose first encounter with Ned Kelly, like my own, is through this book, it appears that Ned Kelly is an historical figure whose particular story is deeply embedded in the frontier foundation mythology of Australia. For Americans, a parallel would be Jesse James.
Like many myths that gain traction, Kelly's story is great; Carey chose wonderful material to work with. Much of this (quasi-epistolary) novel is written in the first person, so Carey takes great pains with the vernacular. I can't vouch for the authenticity but it certainly rings true. And Carey clearly sympathizes with his subject, making the outlaw's youthful mistreatment at the hands of the local authorities look like easy justification for what follows. But the real strength of the myth stems from the fact that Kelly was always doomed. And, indeed, he was hung.
As it pertains to my initial comparison, we have the Jerilderie Letter which was actually written by Ned Kelly but will certainly have been subjective. Then we have Thomas Curnow, a character in the book who makes off with Kelly's fictional manuscript. That it appears at all (fictionally, of course) indicates that he "published" it, which suggests he could have edited it. And, of course, we have Peter Carey with the pen. So, at least three layers lie between the events of this novel and the actual events of Kelly's life.
There is plenty else at work here but, like Atonement, Carey's novel seems to imply that the search for "fact" in the historical record is a quixotic endeavor.
5.0 out of 5 starsNed Kelly is a fascinating character in the work of Peter Carey
Reviewed in the United States on May 5, 2013
I think this book was superb storytelling at its finest. The reader enters the world of Ned Kelly and gains an understanding of the conditions that made him into an outlaw legend. Kelly's mother was very young when he was born and thus they almost grew up together and are extremely close, as the story demonstrates. However it is the cultural social structure of Australia that is fascinating and helps the reader understand the creation of such an outlaw. Australia was a prison colony at a time when England was constantly suppressing the Irish people. Thus many poor rebellious Irishmen and their families came to Australia where English protestant wardens oversaw the pioneer areas, taking sides with the powerful landowning English protestant squatters and suppressing the Irish. Poverty and suppression create certain mental and social conditions that were seen in Australia, in Ireland, and among African Americans in the Southern states. Justice is so elusive when it lies in the hands of the powerful that those without power have to create their own local home-grown justice. Such is the case with Ned Kelly and his family. The narrative shows the development of Ned Kelly's character step by step as he encounters a world where the cards are stacked against him and his people. Carey uses a sentence structure that takes two minutes to master and reflects the way that thoughts cascade from the human mind in clusters of sentences. In this regard he reminded me somewhat of William Faulkner, however Carey is far more easy to read than Faulkner. The characters and events are vivid, the plot moves at a reasonable pace considering the number of years that the story covers. I highly recommend the book. It is full of action but also thoughtful reflection as Kelly is fully cognizant of what he is becoming and the ways he might exploit this notoriety.
4.0 out of 5 starsCreative, Sympathetic Story of an Australian Folk Hero
Reviewed in the United States on November 8, 2017
I read this book before a trip to Australia, and it helped me appreciate how Kelly is something of a folk hero in that country. The author takes a creative approach by telling the story from Kelly's perspective. It is tough to read because there is no punctuation and reads the way an uneducated immigrant from Ireland might talk. Over time you get used to it, however. You can't help but develop sympathy towards Kelly, because you understand his moral compass and realize how mistreated he was by outsiders growing up. Read the book, then visit the Melbourne Goal to hear more about Kelly and his Gang.
I read this on a flight to Australia and could not put it down. This is an extremely well written and well researched book, written in Ned Kelly's voice. Carey has captured the language and cadences of the time. So much of this time in history was unknown to me. How dreadful and hard life was for the early settlers and particularly for Irish migrants to Australia. One can well understand why Kelly turned to crime and became such a folk hero. He is in fact a hugely sympathetic character with motivations as simple as defense of family and provision of food. I found myself wholly caught up in the time, hearing the sounds and smells and sad when Ned is captured for the last time. I had to include a trip to the Melbourne gaol after reading this, and felt real grief at seeing places and events so accurately depicted. I must read more of Peter Carey's work. This was a masterpiece.
5.0 out of 5 starsin the trick of using bush fly and greenhide strips to fish- he remains in Ned like '.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 6, 2016
This is, as Peter Carey so carefully informs us, the True History of the Ned Kelly Gang. And why should it not be? For after all,all we can really know of Ned is that his life, in the telling and retelling, escaped all the confines and fetters that other sought to place on it and became one of Australia's most potent myths.
So just who is the Ned Kelly we find in these pages? He is the son of John Kelly, formerly of County Tipperary, Ireland. A man who as Ned puts it.. 'was ripped from the mouth of his own history' , and transported to the living hell of Van Diemen's land. We never know exactly what he suffered there but it is clear that even once free and settled on
the mainland John is a broken man. Resigned to his lot of remaining an Irishman in a vast open-air English prison, contained, controlled and degraded by the traps. Yet, Ned is still and always John's son- in all that John taught him- in the tying of proper knots,in the use of a plane, in the trick of using bush fly and greenhide strips to fish- he remains in Ned like ' .....the dark marks made in the rings of great trees locked forever my daily self.
He is also Ellen Kelly's son. Australia has not broken Elllen. For bold reckless defiant Ellen Australia is there for the taking- and the making. And make it she does- with John then Bill then George- in the most concrete and literal of ways. From Ellen emerges a generation of free-born defiant Kelly's - a generation just waiting to make Australia its own.
But most of all Ned is Harry Power's apprentice, as Ned always knew. Harry Power the bushranger, the man who teaches Ned that the power of the old state, and all its prejudices, hatreds, controls and,divisions, ends where the bush begins. Harry teaches Ned Australia - its gullies, ranges rivers, creeks. This Australia nourishes, cherishes, protects and above all, shelters Ned. It is this unique knowledge of Australia, this new Australian knowledge, that empowers Ned, sets him free to dream up his own destiny. Ned lives the Australian landscape; it makes him and he makes it.The alien land becomes the place of shelter- home.
Peter Carey lets the new, unmediated, raw, urgent, defiant voice of this new Australia speak out through Ned Kelly, the bushrangers apprentice.
I enjoyed this book. Overall it was an interesting idea and well executed, however the style of writing as Ned did start to wear me out by 3/4 of the way through. The reader is asked to believe we're reading authentic accounts and I'm sure the style is representative of how Ned may have written, but to aid the reader it wouldn't have spoiled the prose for me to include commas and speach marks, it became a bit wearing towards the end, but maybe that's just me!
3.0 out of 5 starsComplexity by construction only...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 17, 2014
This was not a long or particularly difficult read IMHO but perhaps my expectations were too great. I had hoped to find a more elaborate and sweeping tale of rural Victoria with the transported, displaced Irish at odds with their new surroundings and new world wardens. Instead the author has constructed a stylised autobiographical narrative recounting the well known tale from the limited perspective of the main protagonist. This the author achieves skillfully but at what cost? Charles Dickens this not. It reads like any number of stories found in old Irish "history" books... Perhaps the book will be of greater interest to those who are not already familiar with the Ned Kelly story?...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 17, 2019
I love this book on what I’ve read so far. It really brings to life of living in Australia in those times. The unpolished narrative style lends a sense of authenticity to the text. A refreshing change to the norm.
This book has been frequently reviewed so here are just a few quick thoughts.
I was alarmed at the sight of sentences with no grammar but adapted to it after a few pages. The use of 'adjectival' does grate but it just shows how often the 'f' word gets used in literature so coped with it in the end.
Vivid description of the outback and the precariousness of life in the face of the weather, illness, childbirth and hunger. Kelly was at the bottom of this food chain but is sympathetically portrayed; this is somewhat inevitable as 'he' is writing it. As Mr Carey puts it, 'It is history Mr Kelly it should always be a little rough that way we know it is the truth'. A splendid read.