I am no expert on anything Australia, but I’ve read enough Peter Carey novels to talk about some of the things he’s concerned with in his fiction. Modes of storytelling is a big one, and of course, official versus unofficial discourse in that story telling. The first book of his I read was Jack Maggs which is a retelling of Great Expectations where we see Magwitch recast as an early Australian, and talking back to the ways in which he’s treated in the novel.
This novel is very similar in that vein. The book we are reading is positioned as a cobbled together set of documents, beginning with a newspaper account of the final showdown of the Kelly Gang that the rest of the book will lead up to. There are other similar official documents like arrest warrants and the like, but the vast bulk of the narrative belongs to Ned Kelly and to give us the sense of reading these account the book tells us the kind of paper it’s printed on, how it’s bound, what it contains, and when and where it was located. This provides that sense of clamoring for official sanction that we saw with Magwitch in the previous novel. The writing itself (intelligent if somewhat uneducated) and hilariously peppered with censor-marks. All swear words (I guess “bloody” or “fucking”) redacted as “ADJECTIVAL” in the text marking that we are not just reading a novel.
There’s nothing shocking in this book to me, in a story I knew nothing of going in, because as American reader — aside from tea instead of coffee — everything here is so familiar. I highly recommend going in cold. The novel is funny and complex, but not at all difficult to read or process. And while the movie that’s out now might be good, I can’t imagine imagine it will capture much of the novelness of this novel.