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His Illegal Self by Peter Carey. It’s becoming almost a cliche how Carey uses characters outside the law as a way of writing about Australia (just think of recent titles: True History of the Kelly Gang, My Life as a Fake, Theft), he also seems to look for a different voice to tell at least part of the story of each book (the uneducated Irishman in Kelly Gang, the sub-normal brother in Theft). So this time around we have a young woman on the fringes of the US underground in the early 70s who is charged with taking a seven-year-old boy she once babysat to visit his mother who is a leader of a Weathermen-type group, but the mother is killed in a bomb incident and the woman finds herself accused of kidnapping: hence the illegal part of the story. As for the voice, somewhat over half the chapters are narrated by the boy. The two end up fleeing to a hippy commune in Queensland, so we get a story of urban sophisticates meet rural Australia. If this makes it sound Carey by numbers, there is a sense of the book being underdeveloped, particularly in the early part, though as it goes on and the character particularly of the woman grows, it becomes a better book. Still it is not one of his best.

First published at LiveJournal, 3 May 2008.

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