My Life as a Fake

Carey, Peter

Published by Knopf, 2003
ISBN 10: 0375414983 / ISBN 13: 9780375414985
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0375414983 Dj blurb by John Updike. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: Following the triumph of his Booker Prize–winning True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey ventures into the Far East with a novel shot through with mysteries at once historical, literary, and personal.

Sarah Wode-Douglass, the editor of a London poetry magazine, had grown up knowing the famous and infamous John Slater. And because he figured prominently in the disaster that was her parents’ marriage, when Slater proposes that she accompany him to Malaysia, Sarah embarks out of curiosity on a journey that becomes, instead, a lifelong obsession. Her discoveries spiral outward from Christopher Chubb, a destitute Australian she meets by chance in the steamy, fetid city of Kuala Lumpur. He is mad, Slater warns her, explaining the ruinous hoax Chubb had committed decades earlier. But lurking behind the man’s peculiarity and arrogance, Sarah senses, is artistic genius, in the form of a manuscript he teases her with and which she soon would do anything to acquire. The provenance of this work, she gradually learns, is marked by kidnapping, exile, and death—a relentless saga that reaches from Melbourne to Bali, Sumatra, and Java, and that more than once compels her back to Malaysia without ever disclosing all of its secrets, only the power of the imagination and the price it can exact from those who would wield it.

Astonishing, mesmerizing, and ultimately shocking, My Life as a Fake is the most audacious novel yet in Peter Carey’s extraordinary career.

Review: Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake is a literate mystery of forgeries and doppelgangers with a fictional manuscript at its heart. The mystery--the origin of a brilliant but purportedly faked poem--fuels a whirlwind pursuit through Australia and across the wilds of Malaysia. Grappling with her own childhood demons, Carey's bibliophile sleuth, Sarah Wode-Douglass, sometimes becomes lost in the exotic and bloody chase.

The novel opens as Sarah, the reluctant tourist and editor of The Modern Review, is dragged by a foppish poet-friend, John Slater, to Kuala Lumpur. Sarah is intent on biding her time in her hotel, but a chance encounter with a scabrous reader of Rilke soon transforms Sarah's plans and, ultimately, her life. The reader, the Australian poet Christopher Chubb, is the disgraced initiator of a great literary hoax--the faked poems of the non-existent Bob McCorkle. The McCorkle hoax was Chubb's attempt to bring down a rising poetry editor, David Weiss. When the hoax was exposed, Weiss was believed to have committed suicide. But, living in exile, Chubb has hidden a secret for decades: Bob McCorkle had seemingly materialized in human form, killing Weiss and destroying Chubb's life. Sarah is tantalized by a fragment of supposed McCorkle poetry that Chubb has shared with her. Whether it is a fake or the work of a madman, Sarah believes it is genius. Her obsession, however, drives her and Chubb to the precipice of self-destruction.

The primary story--Chubb's pursuit of McCorkle--lives in the fictional past, and the plot occasionally becomes muddled in the nest of narrators recalling conversations second or third hand. In playing out the McCorkle affair, Carey’s denouement comes too quickly. If Sarah is transformed, Carey doesn't reveal enough of her in the text. He is mesmerized, as is the reader, by Chubb's horrific tale.

With its small shortcomings, the novel offers a sophisticated interrogation of authorship and fakery and the power of art. Carey avoids simplifying the McCorkle mystery, leaving the reader to puzzle out McCorkle's bizarre incarnation. While My Life as a Fake is frequently entertaining, the atmospheric mystery occasionally glimpses the profound. --Patrick O'Kelley

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Bibliographic Details

Title: My Life as a Fake
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2003
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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