Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Dead poet’s society
Peter Carey’s game of literature and life
My Life As a Fake
By Peter Carey. Alfred A. Knopf, 288 pages, $24.

Every country has its myths; perhaps every culture does as well. Australia, as Peter Carey recounted in his last novel, the Booker Prize–winning True History of the Kelly Gang, is fond of depicting itself as the land of proud outlaws, heirs to the largely British and Irish criminals who founded the Australian republic in their own roughhewn image. It’s a myth Carey toys with often, as questions about identity and character tend to surface in all his works. These self-made, fate-bound characters appear once again in his new My Life As a Fake, primarily in the person of poet Christopher Chubb, a one-time insurance salesman who may have set up Australia’s greatest literary fraud ever. He’s joined in this complex story-within-a-story by his creation, Bob McCorkle, who may be a figment of Chubb’s imagination but may also be the true self-created artist of the age, a huge brute depicted in vivid, brawny, brawling life.

Based on a real literary fraud perpetrated in Melbourne in 1944 that involved an invented, sexually frank poet, the ensuing trial of the duped editor for obscenity, and the odd appearance at that trial of a man who claimed to be the fictional poet, this is a complicated work that confronts the nature of appearance and deception in a series of overlapping narratives. It’s not made any simpler by Carey’s time-tripping, which begins as a series of reminiscences by Sarah Wode-Douglass, an earnest literary editor who discovers Chubb rotting away as a bicycle repairman in Kuala Lumpur. The year at this point is 1972 (though the novel jumps decades as it does narrators), and Wode-Douglass finds herself embodying another set of cultural myths. Duped into visiting Malaysia by another poet, the errant bad-boy John Slater, who may or may not have seduced and then abandoned her mother, Sarah runs into Chubb while roaming the fetid streets of the capital city. She’s the uptight Westerner, a repressed Londoner who in the humid and often overripe atmosphere of Southeast Asia discovers not the amazing native culture but her own true self, in shades of what the late Edward Said would call Orientalism.

Carey is too sharp a writer to make any obvious moves, however. Instead of having Sarah shed her soggy skirts to frolic with the sarong-clad Chubb, he has her slowly reveal herself. "I am beautiful, but only for her, only with her, in the secret part of my life," she confesses, but only to the reader, about a female lover back in London. Faced with the constant heat, the smells of "sewage, floral scents, rotting fruit and a general mustiness," she slowly warms toward Slater, a thawing that gathers speed as the truth of her mother’s suicide becomes known. She also, much to Slater’s dismay, begins a friendship with Chubb. Drawn to the aging fake first out of sympathy, as she spies the open sores on his bare legs, Sarah moves quickly into her own less-than-honest solicitous mode after she reads some of the so-called McCorkle poems and recognizes their real value. "He is really a despicable person," warns Slater, who has not yet built up sufficient credit with his traveling companion to be believed. "He will drag you into his delusional world, have you believing the most preposterous things."

No matter, the game is on again, as Sarah tries to obtain the manuscript by listening to Chubb’s tale and Slater pulls every string he can to separate the two. Despite Slater’s best efforts, including financial blackmail, the cynical Sarah falls under Chubb’s spell, as the decrepit fake weaves misdirection into an art. Related in Chubb’s voice, a naturalized English-Malay studded with pidgin expressions like "yes-lah" and "sama-sama," his reminiscences dominate the second half of the book, turning it into a transformative adventure in which the anti-Semitic prankster of Slater’s memory evolves into a devoted and desperate father, a kindly stranger becomes a ruthless poisoner, and a broadly drawn joke repeatedly outwits and torments his creator. "He smiled, Mem," says Chubb, recalling the fictional character who has somehow come to life. "He smiled with pleasure, and at that moment I could have ripped his heart out. Oh, I imagined it — my hand deep inside his chest, his vital organs like warm mud in my fist. If I could create you, I said, did you never fear I might unmake you too?"

The revenge his literary golem exacts would be too perfect in lesser hands, a poetic eye-for-an-eye that leaves Sarah reeling. For the reader, the ending is somewhat more satisfying, though it answers none of the big questions about art-versus-life and shuts us Westerners back into our place once again.

Peter Carey reads this Wednesday, November 12, at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Avenue in Coolidge Corner; call (617) 566-6660.

Issue Date: November 7 - 13, 2003
Back to the Books table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group