Jack Maggs

( 11 )

Overview

The Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda returns to the nineteenth century in an utterly captivating mystery. The year is 1837 and a stranger is prowling London. He is Jack Maggs, an illegal returnee from the prison island of Australia. He has the demeanor of a savage and the skills of a hardened criminal, and he is risking his life on seeking vengeance and reconciliation.
       Installing himself within the household of the genteel ...
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Jack Maggs

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Overview

The Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda returns to the nineteenth century in an utterly captivating mystery. The year is 1837 and a stranger is prowling London. He is Jack Maggs, an illegal returnee from the prison island of Australia. He has the demeanor of a savage and the skills of a hardened criminal, and he is risking his life on seeking vengeance and reconciliation.
       Installing himself within the household of the genteel grocer Percy Buckle, Maggs soon attracts the attention of a cross section of London society. Saucy Mercy Larkin wants him for a mate. The writer Tobias Oates wants to possess his soul through hypnosis. But Maggs is obsessed with a plan of his own. And as all the various schemes converge, Maggs rises into the center, a dark looming figure, at once frightening, mysterious, and compelling. Not since Caleb Carr's The Alienist have the shadowy city streets of the nineteenth century lit up with such mystery and romance.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Radiant. Peter Carey's narrative rushes like a great stream toward a glittery falls, gathering momentum as it rolls."  
--The Boston Globe

"A rousing old-fashioned narrative. . . . [that] stands on its own as an adventure story." --The New York Times Book Review

"We have a great novelist living on the planet with us, and his name is Peter Carey."  --Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Imaginative and audacious . . . A twentieth-century, post-colonial Dickens novel . . . This strange, bold, gripping, and wonderful novel is the story of a power struggle, a double love story, a quest story, and a story of trickery and disguise. It's about taking possession--of an inheritance, of another person's soul, of your own destiny--and being taken possession of. Not least, it's the story of one writer's being possessed by another."
--Hermione Lee, The Observer

"Uncommonly exciting and engaging. As much as anyone now writing, Peter Carey is a master of storytelling. His empathy with his characters, combined with his psychological sharp-sightedness, has them almost jumping off the page in full human complexity. An especial bonus is his style . . . Vivid, exact, unexpected images and language match the quick, witty intelligence flickering through this novel, and make it a triumph of ebullient indictment, humane insight, and creative generosity."
--Peter Kemp, Sunday Times (London)

"Writing and philosophical contemplations of the highest order . . . On a par with, and more interesting than, his two earlier masterpieces . . . An absorbing, beautifully written novel finished off with a most satisfactory happy ending, and with incidents, an atmosphere, and ideas that linger in the mind."
--Carmen Callil, The Daily Telegraph

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
...The reader is willingly drawn along, charmed by the story's details, susceptible to the plot's contrivances, always surprised by the reversals, misunderstandings, coincidences, exaggerations, interlocking narratives and other entertaining devices of vintage Victorian storytelling. As always, Mr. Carey writes with energy and fantastic inventiveness. But he seems more in control here than he has in any of his previous novels. -- The New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If any contemporary author has the goods to pull off a variation on Dickens, Carey (The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith) is certainly the man. With great panache, he executes an abundantly atmospheric and rollickingly entertaining reprise of Great Expectations. In 1837, a mysterious manhulking, silent, missing two fingers steps off the coach in London. His name, we eventually learn, is Jack Maggs (read Abel Magwitch), and he has illegally returned to England from Australia, where he was brutally used in the penal colony. He's a dead man if discovered, but he's obsessed with finding his (adoptive) son, whom he's been supporting for years -- facts we glean in small, suspenseful increments.

Circumstances propel Maggs into the home of Sir Percival Buckle, where he is quickly employed as a footman, and where he catches the eye of a saucy chambermaid with a tragic past. An attack of tic doloureux brings Maggs to the attention of ambitious young writer Tobias Oates, who employs the newly fashionable "science" of animal magnetism to draw out the "phantom" in Maggs' subconscious that is causing the pain. Under hypnosis, Maggs reveals some of his secrets, and Oates determines -- without informing Maggs -- to make his reputation with a novel about the criminal mind. Oates has other tawdry secrets -- an affair with his sister-in-law, monstrous debts, the legacy of a terrible childhood -- but he is protected by the veneer of respectability. Indeed, the thin line between respectability and ruin, the corrupting power of money and the cruelty of class distinctions are themes that Carey rings with adroit authority.

As the plot rockets along with surprises at every turn, Carey creates a vivid, multifaceted picture of 1800s London, especially the squalid and tormented lives of the poor and the criminal underclass. The racy, pungent dialogue is faithful to period idioms and to the muscular vulgarity of Cockney slang. Best of all, Carey's memorable characters can stand proudly in the pantheon beside those of Dickens.

Library Journal
From the moment he appears in Carey's beautifully detailed evocation of 19th-century England, Jack Maggs holds center stage. He's clearly a man with a mission, quickly insinuating himself into the household of Mr. Buckle, an arriviste with intellectual pretensions, in order to make contact with the man next door. Just what he wants with Mr. Phipps generates considerable suspense--and considerable surprise at the end. In the meantime, readers are treated to a complex study of character, motivation, and the back alleys of imperial Britain. A mesmerizing read.
Library Journal
...[I]t is easy to visualize on screen this new, rollicking, scary novel of London's underbelly circa 1838. A vivid, sensory study of circumstance and need, the story commences with its protagonist newly, illegally arrived in London, singlemindedly seeking one person who can calm his roiling heart. With a hidden but doubtless criminal history and an intriguingly mysterious present, the young but imposing Jack Maggs affects everyone he encounters, even as he insinuates himself into a wealthy household. Among those he inadvertently fascinates is Tobias Oates, a writer, adulterer, and amateur practitioner of the mesmeric arts, whose soul plummets as his fame rises, his fortunes suddenly, inextricably linked to Maggs. A broad, suspenseful story that releases its secrets gradually and masterfully; highly recommended. -- Janet Ingraham Dwyer, formerly with Worthington Public Library, Ohio
School Library Journal
A bizarre tale set in Dickensian London. Jack Maggs, a foundling who has been trained as a small child to rob wealthy houses, is caught, sentenced for deportation, and forbidden to return to England on pain of execution. At age 15, the helpless young man is on his way to Australia when a 4-year-old orphan shows him a kindness by feeding him from his own meager food supply. The boy's generosity is never forgotten; from Australia, Jack manages to locate him in an English orphanage, arranges for his education and support, and comes to think of the lad as his son. In middle age, Jack defiantly returns to London in search of the boy, now a young man living the life of a gentleman. He encounters Tobias Oates, a famous writer fascinated with the criminal mind who wants to probe his subconscious. In return, Tobias promises to help him find his "son." This story has as many twists and turns as the streets of London, but in the end justice is done and Jack finds peace and contentment back in Australia. Readers familiar with Great Expectations will enjoy making parallels with the classic from which this story is taken and young adults who enjoyed Caleb Carr's The Alienist will find in this novel the same authenticity of speech and setting, madcap chases, and surprising plot elements. The major characters, while not always endearing, are always entertaining and colorful. -- Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, Virginia
Caryn James
Carey creates a rousing old-fashioned narrative, and brings to it a distinctly modern, unromantic sensibility.
The New York Times Book Review
The Philadelphia Inquirer
...[A]n ingenious trickbox of a novel...Ambitious, masterfully paced.
Robert Nye
Anyone who cares at all for fiction should not miss it.
The Literary Review
Erica Wagner
In Jack Maggs, Peter Carey has attempted something new again: taking another's invented world - that of Charles Dickens -and turning it in his hand like a prism to cast a new light.
The Times (London)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679760375
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 593,241
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Bacchus Marsh, Australia, in 1943, Peter Carey lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. He is the author of five previous novels and a collection of stories.

Biography

"My fictional project has always been the invention or discovery of my own country," the prizewinning Australian author Peter Carey has said. This postcolonial undertaking has sometimes led Carey to wrestle with the great works of English literature: The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994) draws on Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, while in Jack Maggs (1997), a version of Dickens's Great Expectations, is told from the perspective of the convict who returns to England from Australia.

But although Carey went to what he calls "a particularly posh" Australian boarding school, he claims he didn't discover literature until he was out of school. He studied chemistry at Monash University for just a year before leaving to work in advertising. There, surrounded by readers and would-be writers, he discovered the great literature of the 20th century, including authors like Joyce, Faulkner and Beckett. "To read Faulkner for the first time was for me like discovering another planet," Carey said in an interview with The Guardian. "The pleasure of that language, the politics of giving voice to the voiceless."

Publishers rejected Carey's first three novels, so he began writing short stories. These, he later said, "felt like the first authentic things I had done." He was still working for an advertising agency when his first collection of short stories appeared in 1973, and he kept the part-time job after moving to an "alternative community" in Queensland. His first published novel, Bliss (1981), won a prestigious Australian literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award. The book is about an advertising executive who has a near-death experience and ends up living in a rural commune.

Carey's later novels ranged farther outside the bounds of his own experience, but he continued to develop his concern with Australian identity. 1988's Oscar and Lucinda, which tells the story of a colonial Australian heiress and her ill-fated love for an English clergyman, won the Booker Prize and helped establish Carey as one of the literary heavyweights of his generation. He won another Booker Prize for True History of the Kelly Gang (2000), the story of a notorious 19th-century outlaw whose legacy still shapes Australia's consciousness.

Though Carey now lives and teaches in New York City, his home country and its past still possess his imagination. ''History,'' he writes, ''is like a bloodstain that keeps on showing on the wall no matter how many new owners take possession, no matter how many times we paint over it.''

Good To Know

Peter Carey and J. M. Coetzee are the only two-time Booker Prize winners to date.

Carey caused a stir in the British press when he declined an invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth II. The royal invitation is extended to all winners of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, which Carey received in 1998 for Jack Maggs. He did meet the Queen after he won the award a second time, for True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001.

Fans of Carey's work know that in 1997, Oscar and Lucinda was made into a critically acclaimed movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett. But they may not know that Carey wrote the screenplay for the critically panned Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World (1991) as well as the screenplay adaptation of his own novel, Bliss (1991).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Peter Philip Carey
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 7, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia
    1. Education:
      Monash University (no degree)
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

It was a Saturday night when the man with the red waistcoat arrived in London. It was, to be precise, six of the clock on the fifteenth of April in the year of 1837 that those hooded eyes looked out the window of the Dover coach and beheld, in the bright aura of gas light, a golden bull and an overgrown mouth opening to devour him--the sign of his inn, the Golden Ox.

The Rocket (as his coach was aptly named) rattled in through the archway to the inn's yard and the passengers, who had hitherto found the stranger so taciturn, now noted the silver-capped cane--which had begun to tap the floor at Westminster Bridge--commence a veritable tattoo.

He was a tall man in his forties, so big in the chest and broad in the shoulder that his fellows on the bench seat had felt the strain of his presence, but what his occupation was, or what he planned to do in London, they had not the least idea. One privately imagined him a book-maker, another a gentleman farmer and a third, seeing the excellent quality of his waistcoat, imagined him an upper servant wearing his master's cast-off clothing.

His face did not deny the possibility of any of these occupations; indeed he would have been a singular example of any one of them. His brows pushed down hard upon the eyes, and his cheeks shone as if life had scrubbed at him and rubbed until the very bones beneath his flesh had been burnished in the process. His nose was large, hawkish, and high-bridged. His eyes were dark, inquiring, and yet there was a bruised, even belligerent quality which had kept his fellow passengers at their distance all through that long journey up from Dover.

No sooner had they heard the coachman's Whoa-up than he had the door open and was out into the night without having said a single word.

The first of the passengers to alight after him saw the stranger take the porter, a famously insolent individual, firmly by the shoulder blade. He held him there for a good moment, and it was obvious from the look which appeared on that sandy-haired individual's face, that he held him very hard indeed.

"Now pay attention to me, Sir Reverence."

The porter was roughly escorted to the side of the coach.

"You comprennay-voo?" The stranger pointed with his cane to a large trunk on the roof. "The blue item. If it would not inconvenience your Lordship."

The porter made it clear that it would not inconvenience him in the least. Then some money changed hands and the man with the red waistcoat set off into the night, his cane tapping on the cobblestones, and straight up into the Haymarket, his chin up and the orbs of his eyes everywhere reflecting an unearthly flare and glare.

This light had shone all the way from the Elephant and Castle: gas light, blazing and streaming like great torches; sausages illuminated, fish and ice gleaming, chemist shops aglow like caves with their variegated vases illuminated from within. The city had become a fairground, and as the coach crossed the river at Westminster the stranger saw that even the bridges of the Thames were illuminated.

The entire Haymarket was like a grand ball. Not just the gas, the music, the dense, tight crowds. A man from the last century would not have recognized it; a man from even fifteen years before would have been confused. Dram shops had become gin palaces with their high great plate-glass windows, their engraved messages: "Gin at Threepence--Generous Wines--Hot Spiced." This one here--it was like a temple, damned if it was not, the door surrounded by stained panes of rich dye: rosettes, bunches of grapes. The big man pushed his way up to the bar and got himself a dram of brandy which he drank in a gulp. When he turned, his face revealed a momentary confusion.

Two children were now tugging around his sleeves but he seemed so little aware of their presence that he walked out into the street without once looking down at them.

All around him was uproar, din, the deafening rush, the smell of horse shit, soot, that old yellow smell of London Town.

"Come on, Guv, come with me."

"Come on, Sir."

A young woman with a feathered hat had placed her hand on his elbow: such a handsome face, such short legs. He tugged himself free, walked on a yard or so, and blew his great hawk's nose like a mighty trumpet. As he carefully refolded his handkerchief--a bright green Kingsman of an earlier time--he inadvertently revealed the stumps of the two middle fingers on his left hand, a sight which had already excited curiosity aboard the Rocket.

His Kingsman safely put away for the moment, he started along the Strand, then seemed to change his mind, for a moment later he was heading up Agar Street, then cutting up to Maiden Lane.

In Floral Street, he paused before the now illuminated window of McClusky's Pudding Shop. He blew his nose again, whether from soot or sentiment the face gave no indication, and then, having entered that famously lopsided little shop, emerged with a syrup dumpling sprinkled liberally with confectioner's sugar. He ate the dumpling in the street, still walking. What he began in Floral Street he finished back on St Martin's Lane. Here, just a little south of Seven Dials, the stranger stood on a quiet dark corner, alone, free from the blaze of gas.

It was Cecil Street he had come to, a very short street linking Cross Street to St Martin's Lane. He dusted down his face carefully with his kerchief, and then set off into the darkness, peering to find what street numbers he could see--none.

He had almost arrived at the great river of Cross Street, with its noise and congestion of gigs and post-chaises, hackney cabs and dog-carts, when he came upon a single phaeton stopped in the street. It was a most expensive equipage, that much was clear even in the dark, and indeed, once he had crossed the street, there was sufficient light to make out a gold coronet emblazoned on the shining black door. From inside he could hear the sound of a young woman weeping.

A moment later, he would have been in Cross Street. However, the door of the carriage opened and a matron in a long dress descended from the coach and addressed the person still seated inside. "Good night, Mum," she said.

Hearing this voice, the stranger stopped abruptly in his tracks.

The phaeton drove off but the stranger stayed very still in the shadow of a doorway whilst the matron opened the gate leading to a high narrow house directly opposite him. A feeble yellow light showed through the fan light above the front door.

Then he spoke: "Excuse me, Missus, but is this Number Four?"

"If you've come for tablets, come back tomorrow."

"Mary Britten," he said.

He could hear her rattling a big bunch of keys.

"You come back tomorrow," she said.

The stranger stepped into the middle of the street.

"Get a lamp, Mary."

"Who's that?"

"Someone you should recognize, Mary Britten."

She remained with her back to him, still busy with her bunch of keys. "It's dark. Come back tomorrow."

"Someone you should recognize covered with soot."

Finally, she found the right key. The door swung open, and the feeble yellow light--there was an oil lamp burning in the hallway of the house--revealed a tall, handsome woman in a long dress: blue or green, very fancy-looking, shimmering like silk. She hesitated a moment, an old lady, all of seventy years, but such was her carriage and her bearing that she would pass, in this light anyway, for fifty.

"So this is Cecil Street," he said. "I thought it would be posher."

She hesitated, peering into the night, one hand ready on the door handle. "What you doing here?" she whispered. "You're a dead man if they find you."

"That's a nice home-coming."

"Don't bring your trouble here," she said.

"You got respectable."

"You come to put the bite?"

"I'm doing well myself," the stranger said. "You going to ask me in?"

She made no move to offer an invitation, but her tone did become more solicitous. "They treat you bad?"

"Bad enough."

"How'd you know I was here?"

"I saw your puff in the newspaper."

"And now you've come home to play the old dart, you varmint."

"No, Ma. I'm retired. I come here for the culture."

She laughed harshly. "The operah?"

"Oh yes," said the stranger seriously. "The opera, the theatre, I got a lot of time to make up for."

"Well, I must go to bed, Jack. So you must forgive me not inviting you in to have a chat."

"Perhaps I'll look up Tom."

"Oh Jesus, Jack."

"What?"

"You bastard," she cried with real emotion. "You know he's dead."

"No! No, I never."

"God help me, Jack, God save me. I ain't so green as that. I know who you paid. I know how it were arranged and all."

"I didn't pay no one nothing, I swear."

"What do you want, Jack?" said the old woman, and this time her voice quavered. "What're you doing here in London?"

"It's my home," Jack said, raising his voice and revealing the fiercer character which the porter at the Golden Ox had briefly glimpsed. "That's what I want. My home."

"I still got my Bilboa, so don't think I wouldn't use it."

The stranger shook his head, and laughed. "You worried I might have a bone to pick with you, Ma?"

"Aren't you worried someone's going to hang you, Jack?" Having made this bitter speech, she stepped inside the house and closed the door behind her.

"I'm coming back, Ma."

There was no retort from inside the house, merely the heavy clanking of some chains which seemed to amuse the visitor.

"I'll be back tomorrow morning. We'll have a proper chat when I come back."

There is no doubt that Jack Maggs planned to keep his promise, but the morrow held events he could not foresee. Three weeks would pass before he would call at Cecil Street again.

Chapter Two

Great Queen Street had once been home to the pugnacious Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Lord Bristol had lived there. Also Lord Chancellor Finch, and the Conway and Paulett families. But on that damp Sunday morning when Jack Maggs came marching up from Long Acre with his silver-capped cane tucked under his arm, all that remained of the Golden Age were some pilasters and other ornaments still clinging to the façades of a few houses on the west.

There was now a tobacconist in Great Queen Street, a laundry, and a narrow little workroom where glass eyes were made for dolls and injured gentlemen. Actors lived in rooms at Number 30. A retired grocer from Clerkenwell now had the leasehold to Number 29.

But it was Number 27 which seemed to take Jack Maggs's close attention, and he stood across the street and stared at it very hard. It was a handsome house--four storeys, a high iron fence, a pretty gate leading down to the servants' entrance. It had a bright front door, a brass door knocker, a fan light, and such was his excitement to behold this property that the left side of his firmly sculpted face was soon visibly quivering.

A dog-cart came travelling pell-mell down the street towards Long Acre with its driver, a young man no more than twenty years, standing upright in the seat. All the visitor's attention was on the house, until the moment the driver cracked his whip.

Then Jack Maggs jumped out of his skin. He stepped out into the road, and raised his stick as if he intended to chase the offender and punish him, but a moment later he was a perfect gent, presenting himself on the doorstep of 27 Great Queen Street with his distress reduced to a small flickering on his left cheek.

Jack Maggs Esquire removed his hat and grasped that brass knocker. He knocked quickly, firmly, but politely.

When there was no immediate answer, he knocked again. And then, a minute later--Rap-rap-rap.

It was not possible that there was no one home. The caller was well informed about the residents of 27 Great Queen Street. There was a butler in this house, a housekeeper, a cook.

He stepped back onto the edge of the roadside so he might look up at the high windows. He observed their dark and curtained aspect with agitated eyes, then, turning impulsively, he opened the little gate leading down to the servants' entrance.

It was at this moment that Mercy Larkin came to the parlour window of the house next door. Mercy was the kitchen maid, by title, but being the only maid in that confusing household, was presently arranging her employer's small library of books where he liked them set--upon the little cedar dresser with the oilcloth square atop it.

She saw the man she would soon know as Jack Maggs descending the steps to the servants' entrance of Number 27. He had come, so she imagined, to take Mrs Halfstairs's examination for the post of footman. The moment she saw him, she knew he was the one. He had the right size, the right legs, but was at the wrong address.

Then Jack Maggs turned and caught her eye. It was not really a footman's face, or no footman she had ever seen. She stood at the parlour window, her duster in her hand, and shivered.

Jack Maggs had not the least knowledge of Mercy Larkin, Mrs Halfstairs or the rest of Mr Buckle's chaotic household, but as he shut the area gate behind him he saw the maid was still staring at him. He saw her pale skin, her pretty ringlets spilling out from under her cap. Had you asked him his impression of her appearance, he would not have heard your question. He had been spotted. He felt the rough rope of Newgate round his neck.

He descended the last steps, escaping her gaze. With his broad back pressed against the wall, he could look into the kitchen. It was his profession to recognize an empty house when he saw one, and this house was like a grave. And yet he knocked, tapping and scratching against the pane.

"Excuse me down there."

He resisted the urge to flatten himself further against the wall, but rather stepped out where the maid could inspect him.

"All's well," he smiled. It was an easy smile, and his teeth were very good and regular. "I'm expected."

"They've gone," the maid said, staring at him very hard. "No one home but draughts and mice."

"Gone?" he said hoarsely.

"You've come to see about the footman's position, am I right now?"

The stranger smiled.

"It's Mr Buckle's residence you were wanting," she suggested.

"Gone where? Where have they gone? I am expected." He ascended the stairs to the street.

"Gone to Calais," she said. "The Spanish Main. How would I know? The gentleman didn't have the manners to inform me of his destination."

The stranger was now at the top of the area steps, and Mercy could see that he had a twitching palsy in his cheek. He put his hand to it.

"Sometimes," Mercy continued, "they send a servant in a coach, but no one stays for long."

"So they are not gone totally?" he asked.

"As I said, they come and go." She paused. "I really thought you were come to be our footman. Mrs Halfstairs is most particular about the height of our second footman. She is sitting in there with her ruler."

"Footman?"

"You're the height, and all. It's a right shame you're not a footman. You're not a footman?" she repeated.

He watched her say it, like you watch an auctioneer raise a hammer, but in truth he had already decided what he was to do.

"I'm their footman," he said. "I'm Mr Phipps's new footman."

"So you are a footman," she said, smiling. "I knew you was a footman."

"Of course I am the footman, girl. I am a footman to young Mr Phipps who has all my papers," Jack Maggs said to the maid. "My letters of recommendation, all locked inside. What is a man to do now?"

"Perhaps you were late."

"Late?" he cried, thumping his stick on the footpath. "I am never late. I was first footman to Lord Logan who perished in the fire in Glasgow."

"Mercy Larkin," said a female voice from downstairs at Number 29. "Come down from there immediately."

"It is a footman," the maid explained, "most tragically positioned."

Chapter Three

Mr Percy Buckle was the owner of a gentleman's residence at 29 Great Queen Street, but he was no more a gentleman than the man who was presently entering his household in disguise.

A year before he had been a humble grocer in Clerkenwell, and for years before that time he had been well known, around the tap rooms and penny gaffs of Limehouse, as a seller of fried fish.

Then, on a brisk autumn morning in 1836, Percy Buckle had "my little visit from the solicitor," as a result of which good fortune he became, in two short months, the master of a household in Great Queen Street and the owner of the Lyceum Theatre on Holborn Hill.

Having spent a lifetime laboriously elevating himself from fried-fish man to grocer, this inheritance came as a great shock. He was at first rather feverish and dizzy, and could take nothing stronger than the toast and broth brought to him by the daughter of the mad woman he employed to scrub his stairs. For days he tried to follow the dark and slippery lines of blood and law that had led from the body of a deceased stranger to his door in Clerkenwell. He lay in his newly pressed night shirt, in his freshly laundered sheets, and looked at the small square of neat sunshine as it passed across his bedroom wall.  Then on the third morning--Guy Fawkes Day, in fact--the fever lifted. Percy Buckle looked around his little room and knew he never had to weigh a pound of flour again in his life.

I can read all day.

Even as a grocer he had been a bookish fellow. All his life it had been the same--even when he was too tired to manage more than half a page of Ivanhoe in a night, even when he smelt inescapably of sprats and mackerel, he had been a member of a lending library, and a regular attendant at the Workingman's Institute.

He sat up in bed and smoothed his neat little moustache, and those mild blue eyes began to show a heat that could normally only be induced by learned men discussing anaesthesia or mechanics in a draughty hall.

Within a week he had given the contents of his grocer's shop to the Parish. He had found a tailor. He had been to Fletcher's Bookshop in Piccadilly and purchased the complete set of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. He had moved to Great Queen Street where he was pleased to employ his charwoman's daughter as a kitchen maid. Indeed, he was already exceedingly fond of Mercy Larkin and would have made her housekeeper had not he discovered the household overrun with servants who were still waiting to have their wages--not paid on the last quarter day--settled by the Estate.

It took a week or so for Mr Buckle to understand that he had inherited not only a house, but a bibulous and senile butler named Spinks, two footmen, a cook, and a housekeeper who had made herself queen over the butler. Sometimes it seemed to Mr Buckle that it was too small a house to have ever held so many servants, but his benefactor, it seemed, had been as fond of them as of his cats, and Mr Buckle was prepared to be fond of them as well.

He allowed the cats--there were five of them--to come and go through the open window of the drawing room. He saw no harm in them. Indeed he was soon accustomed to having both a marmalade and a tabby asleep on his chest, purring.
He also saw no harm in letting the red-nosed butler snore in front of the silver plate, although--to be quite clear on this matter--he lacked the nerve to tell the pompous old man to stop his tippling. He was a little frightened of the housekeeper, but as she bought her bacon at sixpence the pound he comforted himself that she was capable. There is, he told himself, no point in having a dog and barking too. By which he meant that it was best to leave the running of his domestic affairs to those who were most experienced in that field. He ate kippers for his breakfast and spent his days away from the house, at the library, the museum, and the theatre.

It was into this household that Jack Maggs was brought by Mercy Larkin. The newcomer found the smell of cats to be rather strong at first, but the claret which he was shortly sharing with the butler pushed that matter from his mind. He lunched on cold roast beef with the upstairs and downstairs servants, and was then brought into the presence of the housekeeper, a Mrs Halfstairs.

Mrs Halfstairs had herself seated in her office, a peculiarly placed room, neither of the basement nor the ground floor, but located like a hunter's hide in the branches of a tree, reached either by ladder from the cellar, or a set of steep little stairs from the kitchen. Here she sat in state, surrounded by all manner of mementos relating to her brother, a Captain in the 57th Foot Regiment who had fought in those long-ago battles of Vittoria and Nive. Here, she had opened her housekeeper's journal and set about interviewing the latest candidate.

Jack Maggs was not a footman. He could not produce a letter of reference. But he was the right height, and he stood before Mrs Halfstairs with his legs astride, his hands behind his back, the scarred stumps of the two middle fingers hidden in his folded hand.

Mrs Halfstairs was a bully and a tyrant to all who came under her rule. Jack Maggs saw that and did not care. He explained to Mrs Halfstairs how it was that his references had been locked away by Mr Henry Phipps, and when he saw how ready she was to believe him, the last of his agitation left him and he began to feel a little sleepy.

Part of this drowsiness was produced by the reprieve from immediate danger, but the greatest soporific--one he had been prone to since his earliest years--was the distinctive aromas of plenty: hanging hams, barrels of apples, beeswax, even the smell of turpentine.

Mrs Halfstairs was a round-faced little woman with tightly wound grey hair. She was not quite fat but was solid and clumpish with thick wrists and narrow, distinctively pointed fingers which she now extended to pick up a rather ill-used-looking quill.

"Height?" she demanded.

Jack Maggs woke himself enough to reply that he was a little under six foot.

The little soldier beetle made a fast, irritable entry in the back pages of her journal.

"A little under?" she said. "With respect, that is exactly what I would expect from someone in Mr Phipps's employ. A little under!"

"An inch," the applicant submitted.

"So I must do my own subtraction. But can you swear to an inch, or is it really an inch and a quarter?"

"I'm afraid I couldn't say, Ma'am."

"Did Mr Phipps's housekeeper not measure you?"

"No, Ma'am, she did not."

"I think Mr Phipps's first footman is rather stunted," she frowned. "I really can't imagine what he had in mind. I'm sure he did not have a prank in mind. A tall one and a short one, eh? That would be like him, from what I have heard. Japes and high-jinks. Do you think that was his plan?"

"I would not imagine so, Ma'am."

"But who would?" said Mrs Halfstairs. "Who would imagine what the gentleman ever had in his mind?"

Jack Maggs sensed, even before Mrs Halfstairs pulled the bell, that he was to be employed. She put down her quill, clasped her little hands, and gazed at his sturdy legs with undisguised satisfaction.

"Maggs," she murmured to herself.

When Mercy Larkin answered the bell Mrs Halfstairs did not allow herself to be distracted from her contemplation of the applicant's anatomy.

"Fetch Constable," she said.

"I think Mr Constable is still indisposed."

"Fetch him," said Mrs Halfstairs, "immediately." Then, returning to Jack Maggs, she offered the following appraisal: "My impression is, you are five foot eleven and a half inches tall, and with your hair soaped and powdered, it will raise you to six feet. There is nothing more calculated to ruin a carriage or a dinner table than mismatched footmen. Where is that fellow?"

No sooner had the question been asked than the low door opened and a man of most unfootmanlike appearance entered the room. His hair was wild, his eyes red, his wide high cheekbones coloured with what appeared to be ashes. He was dressed in breeches and braces and a white shirt which--being unbuttoned at the neck, and flowing at the tail--gave him a wretched and tormented appearance. When he saw Jack Maggs he bestowed upon him a look of intense malevolence.  "Back to back," said Mrs Halfstairs.

It was not clear to the applicant what the little woman meant, but the wild man with the blackened face seemed to understand for, with an obedience that belied his wild expression, he turned his back and stood erect.

"Bookends," said Mrs Halfstairs. "Bookends, if you please Mr Maggs."  It took a moment to get her meaning, but then he saw it: he was to stand back-to-back with Constable.

When the humiliating little act was duly performed, it produced in Mrs Halfstairs an almost touching degree of satisfaction.

"Oh my goodness," she said as she surveyed them. "Oh my goodness dearie me."  Her round, small face was stretched tight by a smile which displayed, for the first time, very short lower teeth of quite remarkable regularity.

Behind his back, Jack heard Constable sniff.

"Very good," said Mrs Halfstairs. "Very good indeed. Mr Spinks will indeed be pleased, as will our master." She took up the quill and, dipping it in the ink-well, composed a few lines. Having blotted them carefully, and sealed them in a long thin envelope with all the formality one might expect in issuing an invitation to a ball, she instructed the applicant to deliver the missive to the butler, Mr Spinks, and to remind that gentleman that the new man would need to be "kitted out" for the dinner that evening.

Jack Maggs ascended the tight little stairs to the kitchen, knowing himself to be hired without the bother of having forged a reference. As for what transpired between Mrs Halfstairs and Mr Constable in his absence, he heard only the very beginning of their conversation.

"Enough, Edward. We cannot have another day of this."

This was followed by the sound of Mr Constable weeping.

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

It was a Saturday night when the man with the red waistcoat arrived in London. It was, to be precise, six of the clock on the fifteenth of April in the year of 1837 that those hooded eyes looked out the window of the Dover coach and beheld, in the bright aura of gas light, a golden bull and an overgrown mouth opening to devour him--the sign of his inn, the Golden Ox.

The Rocket (as his coach was aptly named) rattled in through the archway to the inn's yard and the passengers, who had hitherto found the stranger so taciturn, now noted the silver-capped cane which had begun to tap the floor at Westminster Bridge--commence a veritable tattoo.

He was a tall man in his forties, so big in the chest and broad in the shoulder that his fellows on the bench seat had felt the strain of his presence, but what his occupation was, or what he planned to do in London, they had not the least idea. One privately imagined him a book-maker, another a gentleman farmer and a third, seeing the excellent quality of his waistcoat, imagined him an upper servant wearing his master's cast-off clothing.

His face did not deny the possibility of any of these occupations; indeed he would have been a singular example of any one of them. His brows pushed down hard upon the eyes, and his cheeks shone as if life had scrubbed at him and rubbed until the very bones beneath his flesh had been burnished in the process. His nose was large, hawkish, and high-bridged. His eyes were dark, inquiring, and yet there was a bruised, even belligerent quality which had kept his fellow passengers at their distance all through that long journey up from Dover.

No sooner had they heard the coachman's Whoa-up than he had the door open and was out into the night without having said a single word.

The first of the passengers to alight after him saw the stranger take the porter, a famously insolent individual, firmly by the shoulder blade. He held him there for a good moment, and it was obvious from the look which appeared on that sandy-haired individual's face, that he held him very hard indeed.

"Now pay attention to me, Sir Reverence."

The porter was roughly escorted to the side of the coach.

"You comprennay-voo?" The stranger pointed with his cane to a large trunk on the roof. "The blue item. If it would not inconvenience your Lordship."

The porter made it clear that it would not inconvenience him in the least. Then some money changed hands and the man with the red waistcoat set off into the night, his cane tapping on the cobblestones, and straight up into the Haymarket, his chin up and the orbs of his eyes everywhere reflecting an unearthly flare and glare.

This light had shone all the way from the Elephant and Castle: gas light, blazing and streaming like great torches; sausages illuminated, fish and ice gleaming, chemist shops aglow like caves with their variegated vases illuminated from within. The city had become a fairground, and as the coach crossed the river at Westminster the stranger saw that even the bridges of the Thames were illuminated.

The entire Haymarket was like a grand ball. Not just the gas, the music, the dense, tight crowds. A man from the last century would not have recognized it; a man from even fifteen years before would have been confused. Dram shops had become gin palaces with their high great plate-glass windows, their engraved messages: "Gin at Threepence--Generous Wines--Hot Spiced." This one here--it was like a temple, damned if it was not, the door surrounded by stained panes of rich dye: rosettes, bunches of grapes. The big man pushed his way up to the bar and got himself a dram of brandy which he drank in a gulp. When he turned, his face revealed a momentary confusion.

Two children were now tugging around his sleeves but he seemed so little aware of their presence that he walked out into the street without once looking down at them.

All around him was uproar, din, the deafening rush, the smell of horse shit, soot, that old yellow smell of London Town.

"Come on, Guv, come with me."

"Come on, Sir."

A young woman with a feathered hat had placed her hand on his elbow: such a handsome face, such short legs. He tugged himself free, walked on a yard or so, and blew his great hawk's nose like a mighty trumpet. As he carefully refolded his handkerchief--a bright green Kingsman of an earlier time he inadvertently revealed the stumps of the two middle fingers on his left hand, a sight which had already excited curiosity aboard the Rocket.

His Kingsman safely put away for the moment, he started along the Strand, then seemed to change his mind, for a moment later he was heading up Agar Street, then cutting up to Maiden Lane.

In Floral Street, he paused before the now illuminated window of McClusky's Pudding Shop. He blew his nose again, whether from soot or sentiment the face gave no indication, and then, having entered that famously lopsided little shop, emerged with a syrup dumpling sprinkled liberally with confectioner's sugar. He ate the dumpling in the street, still walking. What he began in Floral Street he finished back on St Martin's Lane. Here, just a little south of Seven Dials, the stranger stood on a quiet dark corner, alone, free from the blaze of gas.

It was Cecil Street he had come to, a very short street linking Cross Street to St Martin's Lane. He dusted down his face carefully with his kerchief, and then set off into the darkness, peering to find what street numbers he could see--none.

He had almost arrived at the great river of Cross Street, with its noise and congestion of gigs and post-chaises, hackney cabs and dog-carts, when he came upon a single phaeton stopped in the street. It was a most expensive equipage, that much was clear even in the dark, and indeed, once he had crossed the street, there was sufficient light to make out a gold coronet emblazoned on the shining black door. From inside he could hear the sound of a young woman weeping.

A moment later, he would have been in Cross Street. However, the door of the carriage opened and a matron in a long dress descended from the coach and addressed the person still seated inside. "Good night, Mum," she said.

Hearing this voice, the stranger stopped abruptly in his tracks.

The phaeton drove off but the stranger stayed very still in the shadow of a doorway whilst the matron opened the gate leading to a high narrow house directly opposite him. A feeble yellow light showed through the fan light above the front door.

Then he spoke: "Excuse me, Missus, but is this Number Four?"

"If you've come for tablets, come back tomorrow."

"Mary Britten," he said.

He could hear her rattling a big bunch of keys.

"You come back tomorrow," she said.

The stranger stepped into the middle of the street.

"Get a lamp, Mary."

"Who's that?"

"Someone you should recognize, Mary Britten."

She remained with her back to him, still busy with her bunch of keys. "It's dark. Come back tomorrow."

"Someone you should recognize covered with soot."

Finally, she found the right key. The door swung open, and the feeble yellow light--there was an oil lamp burning in the hallway of the house--revealed a tall, handsome woman in a long dress: blue or green, very fancy-looking, shimmering like silk. She hesitated a moment, an old lady, all of seventy years, but such was her carriage and her bearing that she would pass, in this light anyway, for fifty.

"So this is Cecil Street," he said. "I thought it would be posher."

She hesitated, peering into the night, one hand ready on the door handle. "What you doing here?" she whispered. "You're a dead man if they find you."

"That's a nice home-coming."

"Don't bring your trouble here," she said.

"You got respectable."

"You come to put the bite?"

"I'm doing well myself," the stranger said. "You going to ask me in?"

She made no move to offer an invitation, but her tone did become more solicitous. "They treat you bad?"

"Bad enough."

"How'd you know I was here?"

"I saw your puff in the newspaper."

"And now you've come home to play the old dart, you varmint."

"No, Ma. I'm retired. I come here for the culture."

She laughed harshly. "The operah?"

"Oh yes," said the stranger seriously. "The opera, the theater, I got a lot of time to make up for."

"Well, I must go to bed, Jack. So you must forgive me not inviting you in to have a chat."

"Perhaps I'll look up Tom."

"Oh Jesus, Jack."

"What?"

"You bastard." she cried with real emotion. "You know he's dead."

"No! No, I never."

"God help me, Jack, God save me. I ain't so green as that. I know who you paid. I know how it were arranged and all."

"I didn't pay no one nothing, I swear."

"What do you want, Jack?" said the old woman, and this time her voice quavered. "What're you doing here in London?"

"It's my home," Jack said, raising his voice and revealing the fiercer character which the porter at the Golden Ox had briefly glimpsed. "That's what I want. My home."

"I still got my Bilboa, so don't think I wouldn't use it.

The stranger shook his head, and laughed. "You worried I might have a bone to pick with you, Ma?"

"Aren't you worried someone's going to hang you, Jack?" Having made this bitter speech, she stepped inside the house and closed the door behind her.

"I'm coming back, Ma."

There was no retort from inside the house, merely the heavy clanking of some chains which seemed to amuse the visitor.

"I'll be back tomorrow morning. We'll have a proper chat when I come back."

There is no doubt that Jack Maggs planned to keep his promise, but the morrow held events he could not foresee. Three weeks would pass before he would call at Cecil Street again.

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Reading Group Guide

1. "I am an old dog...who has been treated bad, and has learned all sort of tricks he wishes he never had to know" (69), says Jack Maggs. Maggs is a strong man with certain weaknesses. What in his background might have caused the tendency toward romantic fantasy (about Phipps, for example) which is so much at odds with his general clear-sightedness? What makes him violent; what makes him kind and tender?

2. Tobias Oates is possessed of an "unholy thirst for love" (37). How does this thirst shape and rule his life? Does he turn it to a strength or a weakness? Is it this thirst for love that inspires his equally strong thirst for power? Looking at Maggs, Oates reflects that he himself "would be the archaeologist of this mystery; he would be the surgeon of this soul" (52). How is this hubris punished--or is it?

3. Percy Buckle has many admirable characteristics: early in the novel Mercy Larkin says that he is "the kindest, most decent man in all the world" (68). What turns him sour and fills him with hate? What weaknesses in his character allow this hatred to take over his soul?

4. There is much speculation by the characters in Jack Maggs about the "Criminal Mind." Oates thinks that Jack Maggs is an example of the criminal mind, but as the events unfold his ideas on the subject become less and less clear. Has Maggs been made a criminal by his nature, or by his environment? Is Oates, in your opinion, a criminal? What about Buckle, Phipps, Mary Britten, or Tom? Is there in fact any such thing as a criminal mind?

5. Who or what is the "Phantom" that haunts Jack Maggs's dreams? When Maggs dreams that he kills the Phantom (105), what does this fantasy signify?

6. What effect has Sophina's abortion and the loss of their baby had upon Jack throughout his life? Might this loss have inspired Jack's original love for little Henry Phipps? Why do you think he persists in his love for Phipps at the expense of his own children back in Australia? Maggs says that he determined to "weave [Phipps] a nest so strong that no one would ever hurt his goodness" (245). Does Maggs's story imply that such protection is finally impossible?

7. How would you describe Mary Oates: is she really merely "good" and "dull" (181) as her sister sees her? Just how astute is she about her husband? From the time of Lizzie's fatal illness, Mary begins to hate her husband, and this hatred eventually "would penetrate the deepest reaches of her soul and make her into the slow and famously dim-witted creature who was commonly thought not to understand half of what her famous husband said" (292). This sentence implies that earlier, she was neither slow nor dim-witted. What do you think?

8. As a companion piece to Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, with Oates as Dickens and Maggs as Dickens's convict Magwitch, Jack Maggs can be seen as a reflection upon the creative process. Maggs sees Oates's usurpation of his life and thoughts as theft: "You are a thief," he says; You have cheated me, Toby, as bad as I was ever cheated" (259-61). Is Maggs justified in believing this? If so, is such theft an inevitable part of the creative and transformative process?

9. Maggs is never a "gentleman;" Phipps is. What does this tell us about the class system in nineteenth-century England, and about the author's attitude toward it? What changes were occurring in the class system at that time, and how are these changes illustrated by the novel and its characters? Tobias and Buckle look on Maggs as a servant, themselves as masters: how does Carey subvert this idea? Mercy says that although he had two children of his own, Maggs "had an aim to find a better class of son" (295). Are Maggs's motives really as simple as this?

10. Two of the themes Jack Maggs returns to again and again are those of guilt and shame. For what crimes, real or imagined, do Oates and Maggs feel the most guilt and shame? What betrayals has each of them committed? Is their shame justified? Are there any characters in the novel who seem to be without guilt or sin?

11. Maggs tells Mercy that he was flogged by "a soldier of the King," to which she replies, "Then it were the King who lashed you" (295). What does Carey mean to imply about the social ills of England, and of the Australian penal colonies? How do Maggs's dreams, in which his Phantom is dressed as a soldier--and the reality in which the miniature he possesses of Phipps, the soldier, turns out to be the portrait of the former King George IV--contribute to the novel's political metaphor?

12. "It would not have been lost on [Oates] that Mercy Larkin's wedding finger was blown away, and that when Jack Maggs came to her side, the pair were finally matched in deformity" (303). What would not have been lost on Oates--what, that is, do the twin deformities symbolize?

13. Oates envisions the end of Maggs's story with Maggs being burned alive in his mansion. Which ending is more artistically appropriate: the one imagined by Oates, or the one Carey actually gives Maggs?

14. If you have read Dickens's Great Expectations, how do the characters of Maggs and Phipps differ from those of Magwitch and Pip, and why has Carey introduced these differences? How do the character and life of Dickens himself differ from that of Oates? What elements of the plot of Jack Maggs could be called "Dickensian"? Does Carey create a particular style for this novel that directly resembles, or echoes, Dickens's style? What are the implications of a contemporary Australian novelist harking back to nineteenth-century English traditions?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    To Maggie

    You have been accepted into the rp. Start rping at anytime at 'moby di<_>ck' all res

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    Juliet

    Where?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    Maggie

    Shrugged. Sure i guess.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Brilliant

    An exciting and adventurous take on Great Expectations. This is what modern lit is all about.

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  • Posted February 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    So-So Read

    I don't know how this book got a 5-star review ... it was a waste of time. Don't bother. Parts were mildly interesting for the time period but overall it wasn't worth my time.

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  • Posted February 13, 2011

    Great Novel- You must check it out!

    This novel was a great read, it had many twists and turns and I was in suspense every page I turned. It is a great post-modern read and I suggest it to anyone who enjoys a bit of a psychological mystery!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2006

    Carey's Commonwealth Prize Novel

    Jack Maggs is a wonderful-knitted novel. It¿s very sober in style and the accuracy of the prose is crystal-clear. Peter Carey is undoubtly Australia¿s most gifted writing of today, winner of two Booker Prizes and other awards. The story may be boring for some parts, but the prose works, catching your attention again and again. The story itself is very ambitious and worth to read. The descriptions are brief and effective. It¿s a well done read for all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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