Books, Reading, Review
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Book Review – ‘My Life As A Fake’ by Peter Carey

Have you ever picked up a book that you were a little ‘meh’ about reading and then been pleasantly surprised by what you read? That is one of my favourite feelings, and I experienced it over the weekend when I read Peter Carey’s My Life As A Fake, another book that was on my required reading list for uni. Not only was the story itself excellent, but the main narrator in the novel happened to be reading Paradise Lost by John Milton, which I’m also reading at the moment too, so I immediately felt a sense of kinship with her. Of course it was a coincidence that I happened to be reading the same book as one of the characters, but I think when little things like happen, it helps you get more emotionally invested in  the story (or something like that anyway). Despite his status as one of the best writer’s Australia has ever produced (being the winner of two Booker Prizes and a Commonwealth Writers Prize), I’ve only read one other of his books, Oscar and Lucinda (which I “reviewed” here), so I had a bit of an idea of what to expect in regards to Carey’s writing. Whilst I did enjoy reading Oscar and Lucinda, I recall struggling to get into it at the beginning. I had no such struggles with My Life As A Fake, and from the first sentence to the last, I did not want to put the book down. I even sat up so late reading in bed one night, I fell asleep with it in my hands – I can’t remember the last time that happened to me.

Sarah ‘Micks’ Wode-Douglass is the editor of a small London based poetry magazine who, while on a trip to Kuala Lumpur, meets the mysterious Christopher Chubb – a man in possession of the sort of poetry Micks has dreamed of publishing her entire career. But before Chubb will allow her to have the poetry, he demands that Micks hear the story of its origin – an origin that is not what it first appears. As Micks reflects on her days spent with Chubb as he recounts his tale, a story emerges full of hatred and revenge, at its heart a hoax gone awry. It is the hoax which is the catalyst for the events that unfold over some thirty years, and it is from the hoax that the character of Bob McCorkle sprouts. McCorkle is to Chubb what The Creature was to Victor Frankenstein – the imaginings of the mind made flesh. A being that, like The Creature, haunts Chubb until the end of his days.

I think every writer hopes that some creation of theirs will one day find it’s way into reality – whether it be through film or television, or perhaps a person entering your life who is just like that character you created that one time who you just knew you’d be the best of friends with. Then there are those times that writers can’t escape from their creations, that one piece of work being the only thing people associate them with. My Life As A Fake acts as a cautionary tale to be careful for what you wish for, as it is rare that things ever turn out the way you imagine them. This is particularly true of the hoax in the novel, which is actually based on true events that took place in Melbourne in the 1940’s. The characters of Chubb and McCorkle, as well as the editor, David Weiss, who is the target of the hoax in the novel are based on the key players in what is known as Australia’s greatest literary hoax.

This was perhaps my favourite thing about My Life As A Fake: that Carey has blended fact with fiction and ended up with not only an incredibly engrossing and at times hilarious story, but with what could also be called a modern Frankenstein.  Carey’s writing is fluid and easy to read, the narrative not weighed down with anything needless. Every sentence, every word, is important to the plot. I will say though that some readers may find the framed narrative a little difficult to follow, particularly as the narrative switches between four characters (I think), with no great fanfare as it happens, but if you’re paying attention you won’t have any problems. From the novel’s opening epigraph taken from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the epigraph of that particular novel from Milton’s Paradise Lost), to the closing pages in steamy Kuala Lumpur, you will be entertained and probably unable to put the book down. For the writers out there, you’ll probably find yourself hoping that you never come face to face with any of your creations.

RATING – ★★★★

WHO YOU’LL LOVE – While I was very attached to Micks, there was another character, the poet John Slater, who was even more attached to. Incredibly pompous, full of himself, and a complete womaniser, he is everything that I hope a poet wouldn’t be.
FAVOURITE QUOTE – “I must say I do envy you, Micks, discovering everything yourself for the first time. You should write it all down. You know Lafcadio Hearn? ‘Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible.’ A tiny fellow, Hearn, very strange-looking. ‘They are evanescent, you know; they will never come to you again.'”

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7 Comments

  1. I read this one a few years ago too, and funnily enough I am reading Frankenstein at the moment. I don’t know if I made the connection back then or not, but I love your review and analysis and the reference to the epigram.

    I recently saw an incredible theatre adaptation of Frankenstein, a relayed broadcast of the National Theatre London play directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch which was absolutely riveting, I’d already been intending to read Mary Shelley this year (and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft) and the play was exceptional and pushed the book to the top of the pile. Amazing and wonderful it still continues to inspire so many.

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    • I saw that play too! At the cinema though and I watched the version in which Jonny Lee Miller was the Creature and Mr Cumberbatch was the doctor. I really loved it. I read My Life As A Fake at around the same time and it was so interesting to see the parallels.
      I’ve actually got ‘Mary’ and ‘Maria’ by Wollstonecraft, and ‘Matilda’ by Shelley in my TBR at the moment (it’s one book with the three novels in it). Hopefully I’ll get to it soon – from what I’ve seen, there seems to be a lot of the ideals of Wollstonecraft in Shelley’s writing, although they never met. I find it so interesting.

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      • Wow, I can’t believe you saw it too, wasn’t it amazing, I saw the cinema version too, it was shown in a hotel here in Aix and I took one of my French students, I teach a class and we’ve been listening to a BBC audio adaptation of Frankenstein for learners of the English language (advanced learners), its condensed to 10 episodes and so I thought the play would be a great opportunity for them. She thought it was brilliant and understood nearly everything.

        I have her Wollstonecraft’s feminist tome to read and I’m also the new biography by Charlotte Gordon, I’m intrigued as much by their lives and inspirations.

        Lovely to exchange book talk with you Heather.

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        • I really enjoyed it – I wish I could have seen the other version that had Cumberbatch playing the Creature but missed all the sessions of it unfortunately. It was so well done and I found myself looking at some aspects of the original text a little differently.
          Nice chatting to you too! I’ll be off to get myself a copy of Jack Maggs soon I think 🙂

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  2. This sounds so good! I meant to comment when you first wrote this, but I just left the tab open for a month… Anyway, I was just given Oscar & Lucinda, and I also have Illywhacker. I’m intrigued by Peter Carey, but haven’t read anything. Now I want this one!

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    • Oscar & Lucinda is great – the movie is pretty good too. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as Oscar, but definitely read the book first.
      Of all the texts I had to read for uni, My Life As A Fake was definitely my favourite. It’s one of those books I think you could read multiple times and pick up on something new every time.
      I actually picked up another of books a couple of weeks ago FOR FREE!! One of the offices downstairs from me was closing and they’d left a bunch of books at their front door for people to take if they wanted and ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ was just sitting there. Which is awesome as that’s the other book he won the Booker Prize for, so I’m really looking forward to that.

      Anyway, let me know what you think of Oscar & Lucinda when you get to it, and Illywhacker – I’ve not read that one. And definitely get yourself a copy of My Life As A Fake!

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