Geist - - Endnotes - —Patty Os­borne

This spring, in the March 2008 is­sue of the New Yorker (which I picked up at the Den­man Is­land Free Store), I came across one of the best book re­views I have ever read. In 2008, re­viewer James Wood wrote of Peter Carey’s novel, His Il­le­gal Self (Ran­dom House), that “the world bulges out of the sen­tences,” and the phrases that Wood gives as ex­am­ples are in­spir­ing in their sparse but bril­liant de­scrip­tions. Wood goes on to an­a­lyze one of the strengths of Carey’s writ­ing, some­thing called “free In­di­rect style”—which Wood de­scribes as “the bend­ing of third­per­son nar­ra­tive around the view­point of the char­ac­ter who is be­ing de­scribed,” and Wood shows that this is es­sen­tial to our view­ing the world through the eyes of Carey’s main char­ac­ter, an eight-year-old boy. By this point, Wood’s piece was feel­ing less like a book re­view and more like an im­por­tant les­son on how to write well, so when I got back to town I took Carey’s His Il­le­gal Self out of the li­brary and dove in. The novel moves at break­neck speed from the mo­ment that an eight-year-old boy is scooped up from his grand­mother’s care by his mother, who is in hid­ing be­cause she is part of a rad­i­cal protest group. The boy is sure that, just as he has imag­ined, his mother (whom he has not seen since he was two) is tak­ing him to meet his fa­ther (whom he has never seen). Ar­range­ments go awry and no ex­pla­na­tions are given to the boy or to the reader as he and the woman (who may or may not be his mother and who does not seem to have a plan) travel to var­i­ous US cities and end up in a founder­ing hip­pie com­mune in the Aus­tralian bush. We get brief respites from the boy’s uncertain and some­times ter­ri­fy­ing world when Carey dou­bles back on the story to fill in de­tails that the boy does not know. This, plus a tiny bit of fore­shad­ow­ing of the boy’s adult life, make this fre­netic journey bearable enough to keep read­ing. Wood

was right, this is a beau­ti­ful novel, and the writ­ing is worth study­ing and em­u­lat­ing.

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