True History of the Kelly Gang

by Peter Carey

Library Journal Australia's Jesse James, Irish immigrant Ned Kelly was an outlaw beloved by the little guy because he stood up to the British at the top. Booker Prize winner Carey embellishes his story in a work that blasts off with a 15-city author's tour and a 75,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Book list Australian novelist Carey's imagination is tuned to the nineteenth century, the time frame for the Booker Prize^-winning Oscar and Lucinda (1988), the Dickensian improvisation Jack Maggs (1998), and now this rough-and-tumble yet deeply humanistic and beautifully worked tale of a good-hearted man doomed to live a life he abhors. The historically based story of outlaw Ned Kelly and his contentious Irish clan reads like a western in spite of the fact that its frontier is Australia and its bad guys are servants of the queen of England. Carey, a superb yarn spinner with a lot to say about the perversity of human nature, has Ned write his life story for the daughter he will never meet. Ned's voice is pure country and his punctuation minimal, but his decorum is great (he replaces every profanity with the word "adjectival") and his compassion stupendous. Twelve when his father dies, he tries to be the man of the house for his large and destitute family, dreaming of homesteading and horse-breeding, but his tough and pragmatic mother has her own ideas, and Ned is forced into a life of crime as the unwilling apprentice of Harry Power, an infamous highwayman. This is the first of many shocking betrayals, but stalwart Ned remains loyal to his people, acutely aware of the fact that because the Irish were "considered a notch beneath cattle," there was no justice in their lives. The land is vast and wild, but there is no place to hide; Ned endures one absurd and horrific showdown after another, and yet love flourishes. And heroes are not forgotten. --Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Whether it is possible to write the "true" history of anything in a work of fiction is an irony that underlies Carey's wonderful new novel. Ned Kelly grows up dirt poor in the 19th-century Australian outback. His father was remanded from British-controlled Ireland, and his mother's family are all crooks. Living conditions are primitive and abominable, and law enforcement is corrupt, serving only monied and personal interests. Though his mother apprentices him to the notorious highwayman Harry Power, Kelly retains a powerful sense of justice until an injustice done to him cannot be ignored. Leading his brother and two friends on a series of spectacular bank robberies, he evades the authorities for nearly two years and wins huge popular support. The narrative is composed as if it were a letter to Kelly's daughter, employing a style and argot that while always rich is sometimes incomprehensible to the American ear. Nevertheless, the novel is a tour de force akin to an American Western. Though Kelly may or may not have been the sterling character Carey makes him, his life has been turned into formidable fiction. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/00.]DHarold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Every Australian grows up hearing the legend of outlaw Ned Kelly, whose exploits are memorialized in the old Melbourne Gaol, where he and his comrades were imprisoned before their execution in 1880. Carey's inspired "history" of Kelly from his destitute youth until his death at age 26 is as genuine as a diamond in the rough. No reader will be left unmoved by this dramatic tale of an instinctively good-hearted young man whose destiny, in Carey's revisionist point of view, was determined by heredity on one side and official bigotry and corruption on the other; whose criminal deeds were motivated by gallantry and desperation; and whose exploits in eluding the police for almost two years transfixed a nation and made him a popular hero. The unschooled Kelly narrates through a series of letters he writes to the baby daughter he will never see. Conveyed in run-on sentences, with sparse punctuation and quirky grammar enriched by pungent vernacular and the polite use of euphemisms for what Kelly calls "rough expressions" ("It were eff this and ess that"; "It were too adjectival hot"), Kelly's voice is mesmerizing as he relates the events that earned him a reputation as a horse thief and murderer. Through Ned's laconic observations, Carey creates a textured picture of Australian society when the British ruling class despised the Irish, and both the police and the justice system were thoroughly corrupt. Harassed, slandered, provoked and jailed with impunity, the Kellys, led by indomitable, amoral matriarch Ellen, believe they have no recourse but to break the law. Ned is initially reluctant; throughout his life, his criminal activities are an attempt to win his mother's love and approval. Ellen is a monster of selfishness and treachery. She betrays her son time and again, yet he adores her with Irish sentimentality and forfeits his chance to escape the country by pledging to surrender if the authorities will release her from jail. This is in essence an adventure saga, with numerous descriptions of the wild and forbidding Australian landscape, shocking surprises, coldhearted villains who hail from the top and the bottom of the social ladder and a tender love story. Carey (Booker Prize-winner Oscar and Lucinda) deserves to be lionized in his native land for this triumphant historical recreation, and he will undoubtedly win a worldwide readership for a novel that teems with energy, suspense and the true story of a memorable protagonist. 75,000 first printing. (Jan. 16) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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School Library Journal Adult/High School-Not many outside of Australia have heard of Ned Kelly, the heavily mythologized bushranger (outlaw) who lived out his short 25 years in Victoria during the last half of the 19th century. Carey's True History means to change this, portraying Ned sympathetically as one fated to live hard and die young. Born into destitution, handed over to a notorious bushranger when barely in his teens, mistreated by authoritarian police, Kelly grew into the Down Under equivalent of a Jesse James or Robin Hood. He was hated and hunted by the wealthy and by law-enforcement establishment, but accepted and aided by the common folk. Carey tells Kelly's story via 13 "parcels" supposedly written by the young man himself to the infant daughter he'll never see so that she might "finally comprehend the injustice we poor Irish suffered." Since Carey's prose is consistent with the vernacular of an illiterate youth, the spelling and grammar leave much to be desired and the minimal punctuation can lead to momentary confusion, making it somewhat of a challenging read. Nevertheless, the simple yet penetrating depiction of a harsh life in harsh times, of betrayal and prejudice, of love and camaraderie is so affecting a tale that readers cannot resist being drawn in. "True" history it may not be, but historical fiction doesn't get much better than this.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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