Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jack Maggs

Dickens is a great summer project but our modern sensibilities require some contemporary balance. What were those Victorian starched collars and stiff upper lips hiding and just what WAS Victoria’s secret anyway?

A perfect neo-Victorian complement is Peter Carey’s 1998 novel, Jack Maggs. Carey puts a postcolonial spin on the Victorian novel, re-writing Dickens’ Great Expectations (or “writing back” against the empire, as postcolonial critics would say). Carey takes Dickens’ convict characterAbel Magwitch, turns him into Jack Maggs, and slyly upends Great Expectations in many clever and delightful ways. You don’t need to have read Great Expectations to enjoy Jack Maggs however – this is an enjoyable and rollicking read that can stand on its own, with a narrative that chugs right along.

Carey seems to enjoy the 19th century and he is a wizard at recreating it. His 1988 novel, Oscar and Lucinda, about the unlikely romance between a shy English priest and an Australian heiress, is an unusual and eye-opening story of Victorian English obsessions face-to-face with frontier Australia. His 2000 novel, True History of the Kelly Gang (2001 Booker Prize winner), re-writes the true story of the legendary Australian outlaw/folk hero, Ned Kelly, flawlessly recreating Kelly’s voice.


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