I couldn’t help but think it was rather good timing choosing Peter Carey’s novel for January’s book, considering the furore surrounding Lance Armstrong’s confession, another life which also, unfortunately, turned out to be something of a fake. But this isn’t a post about Lance Armstrong.
It is a post about Carey’s novel, and, while the book is a work of fiction, Carey draws parallels from a similar incident which happened in Australia in the 1940s. His novel is narrated by Miss Sarah Wode-Douglass, editor of a struggling poetry journal The Modern Review, who recounts the course of her life since accompanying an old acquaintance to Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s. There, while trying to get her beloved journal into the hands of Kuala Lumpur’s literary-minded, she meets one Christopher Chubb, who insists on telling her his history. Sarah is tantalised by a poem Christopher has fleetingly shown her and, in order to read more of the material, which she believes is her chance to discover and publish a poetic genius, she endures his story, and hears about his life as a fake.
Chubb begins his life as a fake in Australia in the 1940s. After his own poetry is routinely rejected from literary journals, Chubb invents a poet, Bob McCorkle, and sends work to the journals under this new identity. The work is accepted, and Chubb can’t predict how this innocent hoax will change the course of his life.
This novel really fascinated me, although I found it hard to read at first. The narrative trips over itself, as Sarah is telling the reader her experiences of being told this story. So it is confusing, at the beginning at least, of who is narrating to who; Sarah to the reader or Chubb to Sarah. But the further I read, the less confusing it became, and I became engrossed in the twisted world of the novel, as Chubb’s fictitious poet springs to life and sets out to torment his creator.
The one part of this novel I couldn’t quite fathom was the controversy of the actual hoax itself. Several writers write under pen names, and Chubb simply took this a little further and created a whole identity for his poet, including a birth certificate. This, to me, isn’t so different from a writer writing under a different name, apart from the fact that when a pen name is used, it is only the reader, and not also the editor, who is being deceived.
My Life as a Fake questions how far the divide is between our imaginings and our realities, and how easily the two can become blurred. It challenges how far a person is willing to go to get what they want in the world, and how much they are willing to sacrifice. In this book, Carey has created a world which is so vivid and captivating, set predominately in Kuala Lumpur, that I constantly had to remind myself that the book I was reading was a work of fiction, despite being inspired by real events. Now I can say I’ve read a Peter Carey, and a wonderful one at that.
What did you think? Do you agree, or disagree? Tell me what you thought! I look forward to your comments.
Published Random House, 2003
And this month, we’ll be reading Maureen McCarthy’s Rose by any other Name, so happy reading, and look out for that post on March 1st!
Published Allen & Unwin, 2006