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Paperback My Life As a Fake : A Novel Book

ISBN: 1400030889

ISBN13: 9781400030880

My Life As a Fake : A Novel

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Book Overview

Fiendishly devious and addictively readable, Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake is a moral labyrinth constructed around the uneasy relationship between literature and lying. In steamy, fetid Kuala Lumpur in 1972, Sarah Wode-Douglass, the editor of a London poetry journal, meets a mysterious Australian named Christopher Chubb. Chubb is a despised literary hoaxer, carting around a manuscript likely filled with deceit. But in this dubious manuscript Sarah...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A con artist poet

Enjoying rave reviews from the NY Times Book Review and the NY Review of Books, this dense novel is about a frustrated book reviewer (no wonder the New Yorkers liked it) who discovers a poem so brilliantly crafted she sets out to find its author. The trail leads to the back alleys of Indonesia where she is confronted with one con artist after another, one of them a friend of long standing. But are these beggars and socialites only con artists--or something more? What makes this work so fascinating (besides the good story) is the good storytelling. The author does not waste a single word. Every sentence is pregnant with meaning, and every sentence tells a story of its own. Unlike that real faker and virulent anti-American, (and also a Brooker award winner) Indian writer and darling of the literary teas, Arundhati Roy, whose attempt to impregnate every sentence with meaning succeeds only in revealing a rote formulaic, Carey's prose is fecund and deliciously reverberant. It is rare that the Madam and I share the same opinion of fiction, but in this one we both heartily agree--two thumbs up.

"Fake is fake no matter where you find it."

Using a real literary fraud from Australia as the basis for his main plot, Carey introduces the reader to Lady Sarah Wode-Douglass, the editor of a small English poetry magazine, always on the verge of financial collapse. Persuaded by John Slater, a poet and friend of her deceased parents, to accompany him from England to Kuala Lumpur in 1972, she is recollecting her encounter there with Christopher Chubb, a refugee from Australia where he had, in the 1940s, perpetrated a major literary hoax, designed to protest the trends in modern poetry. Chubb had written and succeeded in getting published a series of "poems," supposedly by a man named McCorkle. The fraud, which took place in the 1940s, is told in flashbacks from the 1972 trip, mainly by Lady Sarah and Chubb. Its wry humor and social commentary are fun to read, with Chubb mocking the state of literary awareness in Australia at that time and providing information about the obscenity trial which resulted from his hoax. When Chubb cleverly shows her one page from another work by "McCorkle," Sarah sees it as a masterpiece akin to "The Wasteland," and tries to obtain the whole manuscript, the publication of which would save her magazine. Sarah's life in 1983, and shocking revelations by John Slater about Sarah's parents, their marriage, and her mother's death in the late 1930's widen the focus and time frame. The reader quickly recognizes, as all the characters play their parts and the story develops, that all are guilty of some sort of fakery. The second half of the book, however, becomes a wild, often wacky adventure story as separate new plots develop, the time frame changes to World War II, and several new characters, unrelated to the main plot, tell their own stories. Sarah and Slater play no real role in the action as Chubb tries to rescue his daughter from a suddenly real, seven-foot-tall McCorkle, who has kidnapped her and run from island to island in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the Japanese have invaded and have begun vividly described atrocities. Separate, virtually unconnected plots in four time frames--1983, 1939, 1972, and World War II--revealed by four or five different narrators, in settings that include England, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia all contribute to a confusion of focus. The characters, events, and plot line from the beginning of the book have little if any overlap with the characters, events, and plots in the middle. Though the several sections are exciting and imaginative separately, they did not cohere for me, and I found myself thinking of the first half as a stand-alone novella, with the remaining episodes connected to it as a series of memorable, separately developed short stories. (3.5 stars) Mary Whipple

Ern Malley Case + Frankenstein + Conrad?

I am generally very suspicious of novels whose plotlines revolve around writers and the world of letters, doubly so in this case, as it involves poetry, which I tend to dislike. However... this is Peter Carey at work, and by the end of this book I'm convinced he could rework an appliance manual into a penetrating and thoughtful story. What he's done here is take a real-life Australian literary hoax from the 1940s, fictionalized it, grafted the gothic Frankenstein story to it, and then superimposed a running theme on the construction of identity by the self. It's the kind of fictional razzle-dazzle that might have seemed arch or pretentious or self-congratulatory in the wrong hands, but Carey pulls it off with style. The story is narrated on its outer layer (there are numerous stories within stories and narrators within these) by Sarah, the editor of a prestigious, if perpetually bankrupt, English poetry magazine. She writes in the early 1980s, some ten years after the main events of the story, which take place in Kuala Lumpur in 1972. She was taken there by a friend of her deceased parents (and, she suspects, her mother's lover), and seeks to use the trip as a way to talk to him about the suicide of her mother when she was a child. However, one day while strolling the streets of KL, she sees a decrepit white man sitting in a hovel of a bike-repair shop reading Rilke. This piques her interest and she is soon drawn into the strange tale of Christopher Chubb, a man who thirty years previously perpetuated a hoax on a modernist literary review. Chubb found trendy modernist poetry to be vapid stuff and so submitted some nonsense material from a fictitious blue-collar mechanic poet to an editor he used to go to school with. The editor bought it hook, line and sinker, but eventually was prosecuted on obscenity charges. This is based on the "Ern Malley" case, and follows the real-life case in all its bizarre twists and turns. However, as Chubb relates to Sarah, his fictional poet actually showed up and started harassing him. Chubb had created a fake picture of the poet by grafting three photos of different people together, Frankenstein-like, and the embodiment of this picture appears at his house! Eventually "the monster" kidnaps Chubb's adopted daughter Tina (she is the result of a subplot involving a charismatic and sexy artiste in the '50s) and Chubb embarks on a long quest across Indonesia and Malaysia to try and recover the girl. As Chubb relates his story in Malay-peppered Australian English, one gets a strong whiff of Conrad about the whole affair (Heart of Darkness meets Lord Jim). Sarah is kept enthralled by this tale because Chubb has shown her a page from another "McCorkle" work that she recognizes as genius. Desperate to finally publish something groundbreaking, she sticks around for the whole convoluted story, even though she's not sure whether or not Chubb is lying to her or possibly even mad. Along the way, there are all manner of sto

Murder, Mayhem and a Literary Hoax!

Mr. Carey spins quite a yarn here. Sarah Wode-Douglas, the editor of a poetry magazine in London, travels to Malaysia with one John Slater a writer a little like Truman Capote without the mincing-- that is, he is more famous for being a famous writer than for writing--a man she thinks had an affair with her mother and is responsible for her death. There they meet a Christopher Chubb, an aging Australian. Chubb tells a story that has shades of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Joseph's HEART OF DARKNESS, Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and is as convoluted as The DA VINCI CODE.Central to the story is a literary hoax based on an incident that actually took place in Australia, according to the Author's Note at the end of this fairly short novel. (266 pages)You may not care a whit about poetry, pretentious intellectuals or literary hoaxes; on the other hand, you will race through this novel with the speed you read any first rate mystery. I had no abiding love for any of these characters but was fascinated by this great tale.Mr. Carey is nothing is not a master of the language, should I say Australian. There are nice Australian touches: "he said he would give me a hiding if I did not get off his irises straight away" and "I therefore was forced to take shank's pony to the city but I am used to walking. . ."Surely Carey is saying something about literary criticism, which can be one of the world's most pretentious endeavors. There is the question of what is real and what isn't and how significant is poetry after all? Sarah, the first person narrator, opines that there is no value that can be put on fine poetry: ". . . but what price would I put on a Shakespeare sonnet? How much for Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Yeats?" W. H. Auden, whom Slater knew, is quoted in the novel. I remember, however, that Auden said that "poetry makes nothing happen." Hey, I don't believe you have to be an English major to like this novel. Query: since Mr. Carey now lives in New York City, do we get to claim him as an American writer? I recall that he wrote a very beautiful and moving piece after September 11, 2001 about "feeling" like an American.

Finding the Real Amidst Words

Following from Carey's hugely successful True History of the Kelly Gang, the author plucks another charismatic figure from history to reform in his fiction. This time he has taken the Ern Malley hoax and rewritten it using a bounty of sumptuous detail. In the 1940s a couple of writers sought to play a joke on the surrealist movement of the time. Their hoax got out of hand. They composed poetry using a mixture of their own original work, Shakespeare, a rhyming dictionary and a US army report. However, it was taken seriously, published and then caused a scandal because the content of the work was considered indecent. In many ways the editor who first received the work considered that the fake poet really did come to life. Stemming from this thought, Carey creates the story of Christopher Chubb who similarly sets up a literary hoax. This time, the fictional poet really does come to life. The narrator of My Life is a Fake is the English poetry editor Sarah Wode-Douglass. She travels to Kuala Lumpur on the invitation of her acquaintance, the poet John Slater, with whom she has a long and complicated past. By accident she meets Chubb who is working in a bicycle repair shop. He gives her a glimpse of a poem by the poet he created named McCorkle. Sarah is desperate to retrieve this poet's work to make her own claim to fame. However, first she must hear the whole gruesome story behind it. It is a complicated affair leading Sarah and the reader to wonder what is real and what is fake. McCorkle comes to life and discredits Chubb's own life. Not only is Chubb's past revealed, but through conversations Slater Sarah's own past is examined. Another fake is revealed.Carey does a magnificent job at evoking the environment of Kuala Lumpur in this time period. He creates a thrilling story despite its complicated plot. As the story progresses it becomes confusing who exactly is narrating the story. This fight to be heard seems to be the point because the spotlight is the object of desire for which the characters' manic ambition is set. Lies are the fuel used to gain entry into it. Each character struggles to make their lies sound the most convincing. It is the reader's delightful job to sift through for the truth.
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