Monday, March 16, 2009

Peter Carey: True History of the Kelly Gang

This book is a first person fictionalised account of the life of Ned Kelly, a child of poor convict settlers in Australia who in the book, and in reality was notorious for his criminal record, for which he was executed.

I struggled with this book as I have difficulty with all books that blur the line between fiction and fact. The title was my first stumbling block, and one I have become increasingly annoyed by. The book is meant to be fiction! I do not understand the thinking behind the title.

Interestingly, in my researches about the book I came across a course in contemporary Australian literature at the Masaryk University (in the Czech Republic). This book is one of those listed as recommended reading, and is listed as follows:

True history of the Kelly gang. Edited by Peter Carey

This seems proof that there is confusion in some quarters as to whether the book is fiction or fact.

I tend to research every book I read. Normally I do this after reading the book so my thoughts on it are not coloured by other people's perceptions, but half way through reading this book I could bear the uncertainty no longer. I had to know just how factual this book was, and so I went online. I discovered some very interesting things, the most interesting of which is the Jerilderie Letter, held in the State Library of Victoria and available online here.

The Jerilderie Letter is an 8,000 word letter dictated, in reality, by Ned Kelly to Joe Byrne during the siege of Jerilderie in February 1879.

Page 9/10 reads "he roared like a big calf attacked by dogs and shifted several yards of the fence I got his hands at the back of his neck and trid to make him let the revolver go but he stuck to it like grim death to a dead volunteer he called for assistance to a man named Cohen and Barnett, Lewis, Thompson, Jewitt two blacksmiths who was looking on I dare not strike any of there as I was bound to keep the peace or I could have spread those curs like dung in a paddock they got ropes tied my hands and feet and Hall beat me over the head with his six chambered colts revolver nine stitches were put in some of the cuts by Dr Hastings And when Wild Wright and my mother came they could trace us across the street by the blood in the dust and which spoiled the lustre of the paint on the gate-post of the Barracks "

Read page 194, the last part of "parcel 6" and you will find that Peter Carey has merely edited the text a little.

I have a huge issue with the fact that Peter Carey has used Ned Kelly's words without any acknowledgement of that. Perhaps there is no legal duty to make such an acknowledgement when the writer of the words is over a century dead, but it shows a lack of respect that irks me.

The publishers blurb "Peter Carey gives Ned Kelly a voice so wild, passionate and original that it is impossible not to believe that the famous bushranger himself is speaking from beyond the grave" seems preposterous when that wild, passionate and original voice is the true voice of Ned Kelly as evidenced by the Jerilderie Letter. They are more correct to call some of the writing "a dazzling act of ventriloquism".

The book doesn't just use the information given in the letter, Carey embellishes his book with fictional differences. And I can't say that the writing is bad, or the fictional parts unbelievable, I just like to know whether I am reading fact or fiction, and so could not like this book.

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