My Life as a Fake
Peter Carey, 2003, Random House
I would argue that the hallmark of Peter Carey’s writing is not necessarily the Australiana, nor his attention to details, but the way he describes people: somehow showing them to be ridiculous, misguided, and confused, while simultaneously offering a warm, human regard for them. This imbues the characters with a believability — they are flawed, yes, but mostly sympathetic. Carey’s obvious love of language further strengthens his characters, who express themselves in language that’s perfectly ordinary — for them.
My Life as a Fake is no exception. The threads of the story, woven around and extrapolated from an event in Australian literary history, are less important, in the end, than the interplay of characters and the language they use to express themselves.
Plot-wise, this is far from my favorite Peter Carey book. It has some interesting diversions through the territories of Southeast Asia, an exploration of a grand quest, and a number of people experiencing revelations of their personal histories. But, really, the total plot arc was not as compelling as the individual stories of the characters.
The language of My Life as a Fake, however, is subtle, and though it lacks the almost brutal directness of some of Carey’s other works (compare The Thrue History of the Kelly Gang, or Jack Maggs), there is an elegance to it. There are some nice touches, like an Australian who has lived long years in Singapore still occasionally calls people “mate,” but will also sometimes append names with a familiar “-la.”