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.

Home Uncategorized Lost in the Jungle

Lost in the Jungle

Angela Long
His Illegal Self, by Peter Carey, Faber & Faber, 272pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0571231515 Peter Carey is lost in the jungle. It’s not the concrete jungle of his more recent home, New York City, but the jungle that is more properly called “the bush”, the anarchic forest of his native Australia. A masterful novelist, one of only two to have won the Booker prize twice – the other is JM Coetzee – Carey has produced some of the most singular and simultaneously satisfying works of fiction of the late twentieth century. But that sparkling form has yet to reemerge in the twenty-first. Carey’s latest novel, His Illegal Self, has its protagonists wandering around the Queensland bush for much of its action. And as they to and fro, scramble and hide, argue and weep, the sense becomes steadily stronger that the writer has lost his own bearings. The central character of the novel is a child, a boy not yet eight, from whose viewpoint the story is mostly told. The child of student radicals at Harvard in the 1960s, he was named Che. But after being nearly killed with his mother in a student protest, the baby Che was removed from her and given to his grandmother, a Park Avenue millionairess, to be reared. She calls him Jay. It’s a fairytale of New York. When the novel begins, it is six years later and a young woman has arrived at the luxurious apartment to meet Che. He is convinced she is his mother, just as he had imagined her, largely on foot of some inaccurate information from a sixteen-year-old neighbour. The stranger carries a lumpy backpack, has bells around her ankles, and “tangled hair in 15 shades”. She is the antithesis of his grandmother, Phoebe Selkirk, who has “cheekbones, tailored gray hair”. The first thing the three of them do is head off, puzzlingly, to Bloomingdale’s. Grandma Selkirk buys a bottle of Chanel No 5. The younger woman asks why she is not calling the child by his given name. One suspects that this is manufactured so Phoebe can deliver the line “You want me to call him Che in Bloomingdale’s?” A dig in the ribs, in case we hadn’t already noticed the contrast. After that the action speeds up dizzyingly. Outside the store, the woman grabs Che/Jay and heads down the nearest subway stairs, abandoning the Nancy-Reagan-like figure of Phoebe. There is…

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