I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Down Under

George O’Brien
True History of the Kelly Gang was published by the University of Queensland Press in 2000 and by Faber and Faber in 2001. In the Booker Prize-winning Oscar and Lucinda (1988), the high point of the eponymous couple’s life together is the transportation of a glass cathedral across the Australian outback. That rather tall tale was preceded by the yarns of conman Herbert Badgery, aged 139, in Illywhacker (1985); and was followed by books with such titles as My Life as a Fake (2003) and His Illegal Self (2003). In Jack Maggs (1997), the impeccable prototype of Great Expectations is turned inside out. In all of these novels, Carey shows himself to be a connoisseur of tricksters, of artful as well as artless dodgers. His aesthetic domain is the circus ring of circumstance’s whimsical cruelties and extravagant performances, of outsize claims on the world and energies that try to see them through. So, when such an author presents a “true history”, it’s likely that the result will not be anything like as stable a narrative as those words suggest. The words are familiar from the titles and subtitles of eighteenth and nineteenth century personal narratives. But more than the surface values of pastiche are probably in store; truth and history, which in their earlier usage are implied to be cooperatively aligned, are now almost bound to have difficulty speaking to each other. As well as that, discursive categories are bound to show a few stretch marks when the narrative material in question has been told and retold many times in many different forms, and when from at least the culmination of his wild career, if not before, Ned Kelly is a figure possessing legendary status. Carey faces these formal issues in two ways. In the first place, the Kelly story is said to have been preserved in its original state, consisting of thirteen parcels of papers, each of which is authenticated by bibliographical, or more accurately auction house, annotations. These parcels are supposedly housed in Melbourne Public Library, complete with catalogue number (a search yields nothing). The writings are in Kelly’s own hand, or more importantly, voice. Such a Borgesian act of mimicry immediately raises questions about true histories; the evidence seems fabricated, and in any case historical truth is not entrusted to first person narratives. On the contrary, history is a public narrative and intends to arrive at some version of consensual truth; it’s a form of cultural collaboration. It is this…

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