Friday, December 12, 2008

MY LIFE AS A FAKE by Peter Carey

Carey's My Life As A Fake is surprisingly good, considering the lukewarm-at-best reviews it received upon publication. It's a very enjoyable, original, quite clever literary novel--perhaps too clever for its own good, since it apparently flew over the heads of most reviewers. They failed to appreciate Carey's deliberate, often subtle, sometimes intertextual, provocations of disbelief, his many signals that the text we're reading is, like all the other narratives and texts it contains, a 'fake,' a fiction the validity of which must be questioned and the motives of its teller examined. It's a delicious book, delightful, maybe the most purely enjoyable thing Carey has yet written.

There are so many levels in this deceptively simple narrative that I can only acknowledge Carey's preeminence as the most audacious faker of them all. Carey leads us into his fictional Barnum house, his fabric of potential falsehoods, his narrative of blind alleys, hidden sanctuaries, dubious texts, just as (in one possible interpretation) John Slater leads Sarah Wade-Douglas into the labyrinth of Kuala Lampur in order to use her as the bait in his plot to avenge himself on Christopher Chubb for the Noussette affair, when Chubb successfully 'played' him. This interpretation only came to me in an 'aha' moment a couple of hours after finishing the novel, and I think it's a valid solution--and Carey's failure to reveal it in the text is also justified, since his narrator is unable to see herself as a mere pawn in Slater's malicious plot. She doesn't ask herself the right questions, she fails to appreciate the fictitious nature of her reality--a glaring failure, to the attentive reader. What a wonderful novel!

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