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.'”