08 January 2002
23 Shawwal 1422
REVIEW: Outlaw icon of AustraliaBy Shehryar MazariThe renaissance in Australian literature began with Patrick White who won the weighty Nobel Prize in 1973. Since then the country has produced a small band of gifted authors who have written their way into international literary acclaim and Peter Carey is arguably the most talented among them. Carey has now joined Salman Rushdie in achieving the dazzling literary feat of winning the Booker Prize twice. All through his career, Carey has concerned himself with portraying the image and identity of his fellow Australians - from the transplanted convicts and early settlers struggling to deal with the strangeness of Australia's vast, inhospitable open spaces to the contemporary urban Australians coming to terms with their hybrid British heritage encapsulated, as they are, by generational experiences of living in rugged Antipodean landscape. In 1980 Carey began with a series of short stories in The fat man in history that dazzled international readers and book reviewers. He achieved his first major success with Illywhacker (slang for 'confidence trickster'), a novel shortlisted for the 1985 Booker Prize. With his third novel Oscar and Lucinda, Carey stormed to the forefront of the literary world by winning the 1988 Booker Prize. Since then he has been ratcheting up further successes with novels such as The tax inspector and Jack Maggs. Modern Australia, with its inauspicious convict roots and its relatively short history, is said to possess only three national heroes: Sir Donald Bradman, the incomparable cricketer; Phar Lap, ironically a New Zealand born stallion but regarded by Australians as the world's greatest race horse, and the bushranger Ned Kelly. In writing True history of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey has delved into the life of this quintessential Australian icon. The outlaw Ned Kelly appeals to the Australian inherent rebelliousness and distrust of authority. Rugged and resilient, he mirrors the defiance and toughness of the early pioneers who settled Australia's harsh and hostile land. In local jargon 'as game as Ned Kelly' remains the ultimate compliment for bravery. Before his capture and eventual execution in 1880 at the young age of twenty-six, Kelly wrote an 8,300-word public statement, now known as the "Jerilderie letter", in which he eloquently outlined the injustices that turned him into an outlaw. To Carey the language used in the letter - which consisted of 'extremely long sentences', absence of commas and few full stops - was oddly modernist, complete with its own complexities and humour. In 1965 Carey hand typed a copy of the "Jerilderie letter" and carried it with him for over three decades before deciding to write a novel based on the life of Ned Kelly. According to Carey it was the "the book I've waited my whole life to write". Using the ungrammatical language of the "Jerilderie letter" as the template for the novel, Carey employs...