There is a bravura to Peter Carey’s new novel, an in-your-face energy that reminds one of – well, other novels by Peter Carey. He establishes a voice so fast, and with such assurance, that the reader is swept into the story without a moment’s doubt: ‘There were no photographs of the boy’s father in the house upstate. He had been persona non grata since Christmas 1964, six months before the boy was born.’
The boy is Che, whose mother and father are outlaws belonging to an extreme political faction protesting against the Vietnam War. Brought up in isolation by his rich grandmother, Che knows little about his parents but he idolises them. Shortly before his eighth birthday, a woman he believes to be his mother, called Dial, steps out of the elevator to take him away. She is actually a socialist academic who used to look after him as a baby. Having by chance renewed her contact with the family, she has agreed to take the boy to meet his mother. But things turn complicated after Granny has been given the slip in Bloomingdales because, unknown to Che, his mother has blown herself up. Within a few pages he and Dial are hiding out near a community of hippies in the Queensland bush.
His Illegal Self ripples with Carey’s genius for inhabiting language. Character and landscape are created by rhythm and style as much as by precise description. This makes him a difficult author to quote from because his effects depend as much on place in the narrative, or association with a particular