Peter Carey may be the only writer I know who can write a novel that makes me want to clear my schedule in order to completely absorb myself in the story while simultaneously throwing the damn thing out the window. Because while Carey creates these compelling and slightly deranged characters, the narrative is written in a style that can only be called pretentious. The main character of My Life as a Fake is the editor of a poetry journal and so the text is littered with obscure references to poets and poetry. Needless to say unless you are poetry buff, this is very frustrating. By the time I hit page 50 (my usual stopping point for irritating books) I knew I couldn’t put it down because the story was so good, but I did have to adopt a speed-reading technique in order to skim past those aforementioned pretentious passages. Once I got past my insecurity about not knowing who Rilke was, I was able to get caught up in the story of this poetry journal editor who is desperately trying to obtain a work of poetry from an impoverished bike mechanic in Kuala Lumpur. The work of poetry may or may not have been written by Bob McCorkle, who was once imagined by the bike mechanic as a hoax but who seemed to have somehow transformed to flesh and blood in order to become the lifelong tormenter of the bike mechanic. The bike mechanic was a fascinating character in his own right, who reminded me a little of Herbert Badgery in the Illywhacker (also by Carey). Luckily My Life as a Fake is on the short side and for this reason I’d recommend it as the story is ultimately very intriguing and the writing is excellent (if a bit ostentatious). I’m overall on the fence about Carey though. While I loved the Illywhacker, Jack Maggs, and Theft, I was so-so on Oscar & Lucinda, and I really disliked The True History of the Kelly Gang and 30 Days in Sydney. I’ll add My Life as a Fake to the so-so list. Carey’s latest, Amnesia, is on my must-read list, but I’m apprehensive. Stay tuned.
My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey