My Life as a Fake

My Life as a Fake

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by Peter Carey
     
 

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In his remarkable new novel, the two-time Booker-winning author Peter Carey creates a Creature as indelible as Frankenstein.

In Melbourne in the 1950s, an arrogant young Australian poet named Christopher Chubb decides to teach his country a lesson about pretension and authenticity. Choosing as his target the trendiest of the literary magazines, he submits for

Overview

In his remarkable new novel, the two-time Booker-winning author Peter Carey creates a Creature as indelible as Frankenstein.

In Melbourne in the 1950s, an arrogant young Australian poet named Christopher Chubb decides to teach his country a lesson about pretension and authenticity. Choosing as his target the trendiest of the literary magazines, he submits for publication the entire oeuvre of one Bob McCorkle, a working class poet of raw power and sexual frankness, conveniently dead at twenty-four and entirely the product of Chubb's imagination. Not only does the magazine fall for the hoax, but the local authorities also sue its editor for publishing obscenity. At the trial someone uncannily resembling the faked photograph of the invented McCorkle leaps to his feet. At this moment a horrified Chubb is confronted by the malevolent being he has himself manufactured.

Using as a springboard a real literary hoax that transfixed Australia in his boyhood, Peter Carey wickedly and ruefully explores how the phantom poet taunts, haunts and otherwise destroys his maker, pursuing Chubb from Melbourne to a seedy, sweaty, bitter ending in the tropical chaos of Kuala Lumpur. Inexorably the Creature steals Chubb's life, eclipsing him as a poet and a man. In a twist that is truly devilish, Chubb's own existence finally comes to depend on the Creature's "real" unpublished poems.

Peter Carey has composed a manic, endearing and penetrating ode to fakery at its most truthful and truth at its most fake, a novel that penetrates to the heart of the alchemy of literature itself.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
The Barnes & Noble Review
From the two-time winner of the New Zealand Booker Prize (Oscar and Lucinda, True History of the Kelly Gang) comes an enthralling tale based on a nearly unknown incident in Australia's past that uses gothic trappings to highlight the battle between artistic passion and personal integrity.

When London poetry editor Sarah Wode-Douglass accompanies a rebel writer to Malaysia, she meets the notorious Christopher Chubb, a now-homeless bicycle repairman who concocted a literary hoax in the 1940s that destroyed several lives. Using the pseudonym of "Bob McCorkle," Chubb forced a young female editor to face an obscenity trial that eventually got out of hand and led to her suicide. As if this were not enough, a seven-foot giant claiming to be the real Bob McCorkle appeared out of nowhere and, acting out of revenge against his "creator," kidnapped Chubb's daughter.

Carey weaves a complex, imaginative plot that uses clashing narratives to build conflict and suspense,as mysterious characters confront each other and revelations are disclosed in rapid-fire succession. You'll find yourself waiting impatiently for the eventual throwdown between Chubb and his creation McCorkle, a face-off that will draw all the novel's threads together in a wondrous and thrilling finale. A mesmerizing, innovative work of fiction, My Life as a Fake is as much a thoughtful exploration of conscience as it is a lyrical mystery concerning the creative soul. Tom Piccirilli

The New York Times
Given the amply demonstrated brilliance of its author, My Life as a Fake is also replete with its own poetic echoes and allusions. They work best when the narrative still appears firmly grounded in reality, and when the obtuseness of the poetry-averse can become one of the book's sly delights … My Life as a Fake is serious about art, but Mr. Carey's down-to-earth Australian wryness is also much in evidence. —Janet Maslin
Publishers Weekly
Carey, who won the Man Booker Prize for his True History of the Kelly Gang, takes another strange but much less well-known episode in Australian history as the basis for this hypnotic novel of personal and artistic obsession. He tells it through the eyes of Lady Sarah Wode-Douglass, editor of a struggling but prestigious London poetry journal, who one day in the early 1970s finds herself accompanying an old family friend, poet and novelist John Slater, out to Malaysia. There they encounter an eccentric Australian expatriate, Christopher Chubb, who concocted, Slater says, a huge literary hoax in Australia just after the war, creating an imaginary genius poet, Bob McCorkle, whose publication by a little magazine led to the suicide of the magazine's editor. Now Chubb offers Lady Sarah a page of poetry that shows undoubted genius and claims it is from a book in his possession. Lady Sarah's every acquisitive instinct is inflamed, but to get her hands on the book she has to listen, as Chubb inflicts on her, Ancient Mariner-like, the amazing story of his own epic struggle with McCorkle. In the end, the vaunted manuscript is revealed to be in the care of Chubb's fierce daughter (long ago kidnapped and raised by McCorkle) and a deranged Chinese woman. To what lengths will Lady Sarah go to get it, and how will the women keep it from her? The tale is a tour de force, with a positively Graham Greene-ish relish in the seamy side of the tropics, a mix of literary detective story and murderous nightmare that is piquantly hair-raising. And just when it seems that Carey's story is his greatest fantastic creation to date, he lets on that the hoax at the heart of it actually took place in Melbourne in 1946. As so often before, this extravagantly gifted writer has created something bewilderingly original and powerful. (Nov. 30) Forecast: There is no denying the fascination of Carey's tale, but his devoted readers may find it more difficult to succumb to the allure of a neglected poet than to the more obvious thrills of an outlaw life. 75,000 first printing. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hoping to gain some insight into her parents' troubled marriage, London poetry editor Sarah Wode-Douglass accepts an invitation from novelist and family friend John Slater to accompany him to his Malaysian retreat. Her focus, however, quickly turns to another Malay resident, the enigmatic Christopher Chubb, who in the 1940s devised a literary hoax to embarrass a young poetry editor at a fashionable magazine. Using the pseudonym Bob McCorkle, Chubb submitted poems that were admittedly imitative and, for the era, racy; their subsequent publication led to an obscenity trial for the editor, who came to a bad end. Strangely, no one seemed interested in Chubb's confession, and things became more complicated when a seven-foot giant claiming to be Bob McCorkle appeared in the flesh. This strange golem cursed Chubb's life; born at 24 and determined to possess a childhood he never had, he absconded with Chubb's young daughter. When Sarah learns this story, she becomes obsessed with what McCorkle means to Chubb and Chubb's efforts to reclaim his daughter. Carey's fans won't find this novel as rich in background and characterization as earlier works like Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang; the narrative is pared down, and there's a definite emphasis on action in the closing pages. But this is no flaw-the book reads like a shot, and as before, the author peoples his tales with charming and intelligent rogues, albeit 20th-century ones this time around. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The two-time New Zealand Booker winner (The True History of the Kelly Gang, 2000, etc.) traces the honeycombed ramifications of a brazen literary hoax (based on a real incident that occurred in 1943 in Australia). Carey’s initial narrator is Englishwoman Sarah Wode-Douglass, who edits a struggling magazine, and, more or less impulsively, accompanies renegade writer John Slater on a trip to Kuala Lumpur—despite "hating him all my life"—for what she believes was Slater’s adulterous responsibility for her mother’s suicide. That’s one complication. Then, in Malaysia, Sarah encounters poet maudit Christopher Chubb, now a homeless indigent subsisting as a bicycle repairman, who claims a history with Slater that the latter hastily disavows. Chubb makes an extravagant claim: that he had perpetrated a hoax by circulating his own poems as the works of nonexistent genius "Bob McCorkle" (the fallout from this deception caused the death of a young editor, and destroyed Chubb’s career); and that "McCorkle" came to life, swore vengeance on his "creator," and went on to ruin several other lives. Chubb’s and Slater’s conflicting stories are juxtaposed with Sarah’s editorial quandary (should she scoop the literary world by publishing faked "masterpieces"?) and increasingly dangerous investigations. Carey’s corker of a plot (with echoes of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) delivers surprise after surprise and peaks with a masterly extended set-piece that pits Chubb vs. "McCorkle" in the steaming hotbed of (then) Malaya under Japanese occupation. Issues of artistic inspiration, integrity, and authenticity are thus brilliantly allegorizedin a wonderland of a yarn, of which (the not entirely veracious) Slater declares "He [i.e., Chubb] will drag you into his delusional world, have you believing the most preposterous things." So will Peter Carey, God bless him. A Nabokovian masterpiece. First printing of 75,000
From the Publisher
"My Life as a Fake is so confidently brilliant, so economical yet lively in its writing, so tightly fitted and continuously startling." —John Updike, The New Yorker

“Ingenious . . . Carey is as diabolical as the hoaxes that his book includes.” — The New York Times

"Brisk, relentlessly prankish. . . . A virtuoso amalgam of styles, simultaneously a literary conundrum of the Borges variety, an exotic adventure tale evocative of both the settings and the narrative methods of Conrad, and a horror story derived from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." —The New York Times Book Review

"A wholly absorbing, bizarrely madcap comedy and a telling commentary on the sometimes baffling sources of art. . . . Though fiction, the book is anything but fake. It's truth, beauty and comedy wrapped in one sprightly package." —Chicago Tribune

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

"Circling from the real to the imaginary and back is as happily perplexing as a drawing by M.C. Escher. . . . Carey can bring a character to life, give him a voice and a history and a psychological topography, in a single paragraph." —The New York Review of Books

"No other Australian writer in our time has succeeded as well as Peter Carey in writing novels that compel the attention of a world-wide audience. His work . . . occupies a high plane of literary brilliance." —The Boston Globe

“Peter Carey’s new novel comes like a monsoon after drought. It is a magnificent, poetic contemplation of the lying, fakery and insincerity inherent in the act of artistic creation. . . . It’s a charismatically furious piece of work, brilliantly meshing its ethical and artistic debate with a rich human drama.” —The Times (UK)

“Reads like the impossible offspring of a fictional ménage-à-trois involving Pale Fire, Lord Jim, and Our Man in Havana. . . . A fabulous book in the original sense of the term--and in the other one, too." —The Atlantic Monthly
 
“In book after book, Peter Carey has proven that he's incapable of writing a dull page. . . . He’s one of the greatest storytellers alive. . . . A dazzling narrative.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Fast, furious and fantastical. . . . Carey is Australia's finest living novelist.” —The Guardian

"Carey is that rare artist brave enough to flee success, a tactic that underlies his dazzling track record. Each of his novels sets him a different challenge; in each, he excels. A triumph in its own right, My Life as a Fake leaves us wondering how he's going to delight and disconcert us in his next book." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"My Life as a Fake is the real thing." —Time

"Complex and masterful. . . . A haunting story whose surreal events are as captivating and memorable as the misguided aspirations of its characters." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"In My Life as a Fake, Peter Carey has created a novel that is captivating and haunting, and, in the end, sinfully delightful. For both longtime readers and those coming to his work for the first time, it's a book not to miss." —Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Great rollicking fun. . . . A dazzling, beautifully detailed, intellectually energetic book." —The News & Observer (Raleigh)

"My Life as a Fake dazzles the reader with heady ideas and literary reference points (à la Frankenstein and Pale Fire), then catapults us into madcap action. . . . [Carey] exudes a hallucinatory realism that makes imaginary universes feel concrete and believable." —The Village Voice

"A devilishly engrossing meditation on illusion. . . . My Life as a Fake [is] an ingenious homage to the power of the imagination and to Carey's ability to create—and connect—worlds within worlds." —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679312819
Publisher:
Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date:
10/28/2003
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.94(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.07(d)

Read an Excerpt

In his remarkable new novel, the two-time Booker-winning author Peter Carey creates a Creature as indelible as Frankenstein.
In Melbourne in the 1950s, an arrogant young Australian poet named Christopher Chubb decides to teach his country a lesson about pretension and authenticity. Choosing as his target the trendiest of the literary magazines, he submits for publication the entire oeuvre of one Bob McCorkle, a working class poet of raw power and sexual frankness, conveniently dead at twenty-four and entirely the product of Chubb’s imagination. Not only does the magazine fall for the hoax, but the local authorities also sue its editor for publishing obscenity. At the trial someone uncannily resembling the faked photograph of the invented McCorkle leaps to his feet. At this moment a horrified Chubb is confronted by the malevolent being he has himself manufactured.
Using as a springboard a real literary hoax that transfixed Australia in his boyhood, Peter Carey wickedly and ruefully explores how the phantom poet taunts, haunts and otherwise destroys his maker, pursuing Chubb from Melbourne to a seedy, sweaty, bitter ending in the tropical chaos of Kuala Lumpur. Inexorably the Creature steals Chubb’s life, eclipsing him as a poet and a man. In a twist that is truly devilish, Chubb’s own existence finally comes to depend on the Creature’s “real” unpublished poems.
Peter Carey has composed a manic, endearing and penetrating ode to fakery at its most truthful and truth at its most fake, a novel that penetrates to the heart of the alchemy of literature itself.

Author Biography: Peter Carey was born in Australia in 1943 and now lives in New York City with his family. The author of seven previous novels and a collection of stories, Carey has won the Miles Franklin Award, the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book twice, and the Booker Prize twice -- for Oscar and Lucinda and for his most recent novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, which was also a finalist for the 2002 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Meet the Author

Peter Carey received the Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda, and again for True History of the Kelly Gang. His other honors include the Commonwealth Prize and the Miles Franklin Award. The author of seven previous novels and a collection of stories, he was born in Australia in 1943 and now lives in New York City. 

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 7, 1943
Place of Birth:
Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia
Education:
Monash University (no degree)
Website:
http://www.petercareybooks.com

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My Life as a Fake 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
archetype67 More than 1 year ago
Peter Carey based My Life as a Fake on a real incident in Australia where a writer perpetrated a hoax by publishing the poems of an individual he claimed was dead, but never really existed. While the actual incident would be interesting enough, Carey takes this further by have the supposedly imagined poet show up in the life of the individual who created the hoax. The story is told by Sarah - the editor of a London Lit journal who has followed another writer, Slater to Malaysia. Slater, knew Sarah's mother and part of her reason to go there is because she wanted to know what really happened between Slater and her mother. That subplot is a perfect subtle way of getting the reader to question the narrator's reliability. Added to that, a layering of stories told to the narrator that sometimes include another told to them. The reader receives conflicting stories through this technique and one finds oneself wonder which is true.  Sarah, while in Malaysia, she runs into Christopher Chubb, the man who created the poetry hoax. He shows her a poem he insists is the work of Bob McCorkle, the supposedly made up poet. She realizes it is a brilliant piece of writing, but Chubb says he must tell her his story. His story is also told by Slater, giving the reader two different sides. As the story continues, Chubb tells his story, and the story of the hoax, of Bob McCorkle come to life, of his daughter, his lover, and the stories of others who help or hinder him along the way, as well as telling the stories they have told to him. We also hear directly from the daughter through the narrator and Slater tells Sarah versions of some events he participated in, heard, or witnessed that differ to the point that the are sometimes in direct conflict with what we learn before or after. The narrator herself begins to question things, but her own desires color what she chooses to believe. Slater also tells her what really happened to her own mother, even though she remembers it differently.  In the end, the narratives weave in and out, closer and further from the narrator and the reader is left to question what did or didn't happen - and is left to the reality that none of the characters are all that likable. Does a character's likability make it more like we believe their version? Sarah starts as likable, but as the story progresses I found her less and less so. Her obsession reflects that of Chubb and at least one version of McCorkle, and while the end is of course in question, one imagines she end up similarly.  It is rare to find a book where the characters aren't especially likable, yet My Life as a Fake is wonderfully engrossing. Carey does an excellent job at recreating post-war Australia, and 1950's and 70's Malaysia for the readers, and in creating engaging characters that are fully drawn if not particularly sympathetic. I found that even though the story was being told to the narrator, each of the characters in any given story had their own voice. He also has created a sort of literary Frankenstein in Bob McCorkle that keeps the plot moving and building to the shocking end. The story is action packed and full of vivid details — an impressive feat when you realize that during the course of the narration, only a short time passes in opposition to the decades the stories told to her take, and, other than moving from place to place where characters meet and the story is revealed, there is little real-time action.  Carey's characters are epically flawed - they are greedy, selfish, amoral, and vengeful (often for slights perceived as far worse than most of us would see them) and more often than not under the sway of one of those flaws, although they cannot see it, even when reflected in others they accuse of the same. While the end is shocking, it feels inevitable and unavoidable, and the sadness is not for the consequences, but rather for the fact that they couldn't see it coming.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never been able to get into Peter Carey before, but I bought this to put into my book club (it is already available here down under!) and started to read it to fill in time waiting to pick the kids up from school. I could not put this down, I was drawn into this improbable and fantastical tale almost without realising it. I haven't enjoyed the EXPERIENCE of reading like this since I read Dirt Music and Cloud Street (also good Aussie titles!)