His Illegal Self: Peter Carey

I had read Peter Carey’s ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ last year, which was released in 2009 and had really enjoyed the dry wit and unusual humor in it. So it was with some excitement and expectation that I picked up ‘His Illegal Self’, a book released in 2008. This novel however did not live up to my expectations and I felt quite unsatisfied with it in the end.

This protagonist of the novel is Che Selkirk, an eight year old boy, the son of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) activist parents. Che lives with his grandmother, an upper class American woman. His activist parents are absent, being on the run from the FBI having been involved in violent activities. Che’s life is comfortable and peaceful; decidedly maintained that way by his grandmother who has kept him away from the television, shielding him from all the disturbing news of his famous parents. But there is one time when she lets her guard down and permits Che to meet his mother for an hour. Anna Xenos an ex-SDS activist and a present day professor of English, volunteers to take the boy to his mother. But what would have been a mildly illegal activity on Anna’s part quickly blows out of proportion and she finds herself on the run with the boy. Anna and Che head to Australia where they are promised support by a revolutionary faction there, but are ultimately left to fend for themselves. 

The narrative is tight and intriguing in these opening chapters. Carey tries to delve into the unstable and traumatic life of the child and succeeds in getting the reader involved in the boy’s emotional upheavels. With the background of the SDS, and the themes of class differences and wars hinted upon, the novel seems to promise a complex and layered storyline. But unfortunately the latter half of the novel flounders and none of the themes are really explored in depth.  We are just allowed a glimpse into these hefty topics but never get a full picture of the effects of these on the characters involved. Additionally the emotional bonding between Anna and Che is also not brought out well and falls flat. 

Though Peter Carey’s prose is crisp and sharp as usual, the novel itself ends up being ineffective due to the flaws in its plot. I would say this novel is not one of Carey’s best and I would rather recommend ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ if you are interested in reading Peter Carey’s work.

'His Illegal Self' can be downloaded for Kindle or can be bought at Flipkart.

Book Source: Self


Raj said...

Nice review. Have not read anything by Peter Carey. Will start with Parrot.. I think.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Raj,
I think you'll enjoy 'Parrot and Olivier..'. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy.

TheBookGirl said...

Too bad that this one didn't stay on course to the end. I have not read Carey before, but after reading your review, I know this is not the one to start with.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi BookGirl,
Carey is a pretty interesting writer and has a quirky way of looking at things. This particular book does not shine as his others, but I think you will love some of his other better works. Do give him a try :)

Andrew Blackman said...

‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ has been on my reading list for a long time, but have never got around to it. Maybe this is the prod I needed! This one sounds interesting from the story, but sorry to hear it fell flat in the end.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Andrew,
Do read "Parrot and Olivier.." Would love to hear your views :)