My Life as a Fake

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Overview

Sarah Wode-Douglass, the editor of a London poetry magazine, had grown up knowing the famous and infamous John Slater. And because he figured prominently in the disaster that was her parents' marriage, when Slater proposes that she accompany him to Malaysia, Sarah embarks out of curiosity on a journey that becomes, instead, a lifelong obsession. Her discoveries spiral outward from Christopher Chubb, a destitute Australian she meets by chance in the steamy, fetid city of Kuala Lumpur. He is mad, Slater warns her, ...
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2003 AUDIO CASSETTE Good Audio Book 7 RELIABLE audio cassettes in the clamshell case published by Recorded Books withdrawn from the library collection. Some library sticker and ... markings to the box. The tapes sits in an individual slot, sturdy and presentable. Each cassette is tested for quality of sound. Enjoy this unabridged audio cassette performance! Read more Show Less

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2003 Very Good Ex-Library 7 unabridged audio cassettes in original plastic case. Usual library markings. Running time: 9.75 hrs. Brilliantly fictionalized sping on the greatest ... literary hoax in Australia's colorful history. Carey's masterful tale receives a sparkling narration by Lyons who provides authentic and compelling voices for the full cast of vivid characters. Read more Show Less

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My Life as a Fake

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Overview

Sarah Wode-Douglass, the editor of a London poetry magazine, had grown up knowing the famous and infamous John Slater. And because he figured prominently in the disaster that was her parents' marriage, when Slater proposes that she accompany him to Malaysia, Sarah embarks out of curiosity on a journey that becomes, instead, a lifelong obsession. Her discoveries spiral outward from Christopher Chubb, a destitute Australian she meets by chance in the steamy, fetid city of Kuala Lumpur. He is mad, Slater warns her, explaining the ruinous hoax Chubb had committed decades earlier. But lurking behind the man's peculiarity and arrogance, Sarah senses, is artistic genius, in the form of a manuscript he teases her with and which she soon would do anything to acquire. The provenance of this work, she gradually learns, is marked by kidnapping, exile, and death - a relentless saga that reaches from Melbourne to Bali, Sumatra, and Java, and that more than once compels her back to Malaysia without ever disclosing all of its secrets, only the power of the imagination and the prices it can exact from those who would wield it.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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

"InMy 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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402559914
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/14/2003
  • Format: Cassette

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. 

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

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.

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Introduction

A New York Times Notable Book

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

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake, a wonderfully conceived and cleverly executed novel about the relationship between art and artist, truth and fiction. Based on an infamous literary hoax in Australia in the 1940s, it is a telling and often hilarious look at how the act of creation holds surprises that fly in the face of rational thought and defy the expectations of creator, critic, and reader alike.

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Foreword

1. My Life as a Fake opens with a satirical description of London’s literary elite, placing the fictional John Slater within the company of such real-life figures as Robert Lowell, Dylan Thomas, and the “Faber crowd,” which establishes Sarah’s literary credentials as the editor of The Modern Review. How does this portrait set the framework and tone for the rest of the novel?

2. Is Sarah’s fascination with John Slater based solely on her suspicions about the role he played in her parents’ lives? Why, despite her antipathy to travel, does she agree to accompany him to Malaysia? What are his motivations for asking her?

3. Is Slater’s account of the McCorkle hoax [pp. 19–21] designed to pique or discourage Sarah’s interest in the scandal? What particular details support your answer?

4. At the end of her first meeting with Chubb, Sarah says, “Chubb appeared monstrous—malicious, anti-Semitic, so grotesque and self-deceiving in his love of ‘truth and beauty’” [p. 33]. What insights does this harsh evaluation offer into Sarah’s decision to pursue the poet and the manuscript he briefly shares with her?

5. In describing the Australian character and culture, Slater says, “Remember, this is the country of the duck-billed platypus. When you are cut off from the rest of the world, things are bound to develop in interesting ways” [p. 19]. Chubb, however, chooses to see his homeland as a victim of the “Tyranny of Distance” [p. 29]. What do these views reveal about differences between an outside observer (Slater) and a native? Is Chubb’sviewpoint shaped by his lack of recognition? In what ways does it color his description of David Weiss [pp. 30–31], a Jew whose privileged childhood and early success Chubb openly resents? What impact does it have on his account of the obscenity trial [p. 56]?

6. McCorkle’s rant against the prosecution of Weiss and his vow to exact justice “not just for the sake of David Weiss but of art itself, and for a country where we seldom understand that we must be prepared to fight for issues bigger than an umpire’s decision at the Melbourne Cricket Ground” [pp. 77–78] is an escalation of Chubb’s criticisms of Australian society. Why has Carey put these words into the mouth of the “phantom poet”?

7. When McCorkle recites one of Chubb’s contrived parodies, Carey writes, “This lunatic had somehow recast it without altering a word. What had been clever had now become true, the song of the autodidact, the colonial, the damaged beast of the antipodes” [p. 82]. What does this imply about the nature of literature? About the relationship between a writer and his or her audience?

8. How does Carey use minor characters–from David Weiss, the rival Chubb hopes to expose, to Noussette (who, Chubb declares, would “try anything . . . could be who she wished” [p. 93]) to Mulaha, the master of poisons Chubb encounters in the jungle—to explore the role of deception in human lives? In what ways do these incidental figures help define the moral universe of the novel?

9. “I went to bed with the disconcerting knowledge that almost everything I had assumed about my life was incorrect, that I had been baptised in blood and raised on secrets and misconstructions which had, obviously, made me who I was” [p. 133], Sarah writes after learning the truth about her mother’s death and her father’s dual life. Why do Slater’s revelations free her to divulge the story of her own long-term love affair? Does the relationship reveal something about her character that was previously hidden? Does it make her more or less appealing?

10. McCorkle quotes Milton’s Paradise Lost when he demands that Chubb give him a birth certificate [p. 95]. What other quotations or literary references extend the scope and resonance of the story? What purpose do they serve in the overall scheme of the novel? For example, what do they suggest about Carey’s feelings about “serious” literature and its acolytes?

11. The creature’s hold over Chubb reaches a climax when he kidnaps Nousette’s baby and raises her as his own. How does Chubb’s unrelenting pursuit of the pair—as well as the creature’s ability to convince the little girl that Chubb is an evil spirit [p. 208]—mirror the creative process and the fears, hopes, and ambitions that drive an artist?

12. My Life as a Fake is narrated by Sarah, but the voices of Slater, Chubb, and McCorkle take over at various crucial points. What effect does this have on your reactions to the events? Whose point of view seems the most reliable and why?

13. On his deathbed McCorkle gives Chubb a manuscript with the “fierce sarcastic title, My Life as a Fake” [p. 256]. In what ways does the title sum up not only McCorkle’s life, but also the life stories of each of the other three major characters?

14. While the Ern Malley scandal is familiar to Australian readers and students of literary hoaxes, it is probably unknown to most American readers. In what ways might this affect the reader’s response to the novel? Does it stand entirely on its own, or would knowledge of the actual events enhance the reading experience? Why do you think Carey chose to explain the sources of the novel in an afterword rather than in an introduction or a prologue?

15. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster destroys Victor Frankenstein, the brilliant scientist who created him. One of the major themes of that novel is the danger of unfettered scientific inquiry and experimentation. Are there similarities between Chubb’s motivations and those of Dr. Frankenstein? In drawing on the theme and structure of Frankenstein for My Life as a Fake, what is Carey saying about the nature of genius? Are superior minds and talents exempt from the ethical guidelines of ordinary society?

16. Carey appropriated and reanimated the plot of Dickens’s Great Expectations in his previous novel, Jack Maggs, and his Booker Prize–winning True History of the Kelly Gang retells the story of one of Australia’s most famous real-life legends. In My Life as a Fake, Carey exploits both literary devices, imposing the framework of a classic work of fiction on an historical event. How does the juxtaposition illuminate Carey’s definition of “creativity” and the role of the fiction writer? To what extent does the history of literature represent an ongoing endeavor to conflate reality and make-believe to give the world an utterly original creation?

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake, a wonderfully conceived and cleverly executed novel about the relationship between art and artist, truth and fiction. Based on an infamous literary hoax in Australia in the 1940s, it is a telling, often hilarious look at how the act of creation holds surprises that fly in the face of rational thought and defy the expectations of creator, critic, and reader alike.

1. My Life as a Fake opens with a satirical description of London's literary elite, placing the fictional John Slater within the company of such real-life figures as Robert Lowell, Dylan Thomas, and the "Faber crowd," and establishing Sarah's literary credentials as the editor of The Modern Review. How does this portrait set the framework and tone for the rest of the novel?

2. Is Sarah's fascination with John Slater based solely on her suspicions about the role he played in her parents' lives? Why, despite her antipathy to travel, does she agree to accompany him to Malaysia? What are his motivations for asking her?

3. Is Slater's account of the McCorkle hoax (pp. 19–21) designed to pique or discourage Sarah's interest in the scandal? What particular details support your answer?

4. At the end of her first meeting with Chubb, Sarah says, "Chubb appeared monstrous—malicious, anti-Semitic, so grotesque and self-deceiving in his love of 'truth and beauty'" (p. 33). What insights does this harsh evaluation offer into Sarah's decision to pursue the poet and the manuscript he briefly shares with her?

5. In describing the Australian characterand culture, Slater says, "Remember, this is the country of the duck-billed platypus. When you are cut off from the rest of the world, things are bound to develop in interesting ways." (pp. 19–20), while Chubb chooses to see his homeland as a victim of the "Tyranny of Distance" (p. 29). What do these views reveal about differences between an outside observer (Slater) and a native? Is Chubb's viewpoint shaped by his own lack of recognition as a man of learning and intelligence? In what ways does it color his description of David Weiss (pp. 30–31), a Jew whose privileged childhood and early success Chubb openly resents? What impact does it have on his account of the obscenity trial (p.56)?

6. McCorkle's rant against the prosecution of Weiss and his vow to exact justice "not just for the sake of David Weiss but of art itself, and for a country where we seldom understand that we must be prepared to fight for issues bigger than an umpire's decision at the Melbourne Cricket Ground" (pp. 77–78) is an escalation of Chubb's criticisms of Australian society. Why has Carey put these words into the mouth of the "phantom poet"?

7. When McCorkle recites one of Chubb's contrived parodies, Carey writes, ". . . this lunatic had somehow recast it without altering a word. What had been clever had now become true, the song of the autodidact, the colonial, the damaged beast of the antipodes" (p. 82). What does this imply about the nature of literature? About the relationship between writer and audience?

8. How does Carey use minor characters—from David Weiss, the rival Chubb hopes to expose, to Noussette (who, Chubb declares, would "try anything. . . . could be who she wished" (p. 93) to Mulaha, the master of poisons Chubb encounters in the jungle (pp. 196–197)—to explore the role of deception in human lives? In what ways do these incidental figures help define the moral universe of the novel?

9. "I went to bed with the disconcerting knowledge that almost everything I had assumed about my life was incorrect, that I had been baptized in blood and raised on secrets and misconstructions which had, obviously, made me who I was" ( p. 133), Sarah writes after learning the truth about her mother's death and her father's dual life. Why do Slater's revelations free her to divulge the story of her own long-term love affair? Does the relationship reveal something about her character that was previously hidden? Does it make her more or less appealing?

10. McCorkle quotes Milton's Paradise Lost when he demands that Chubb give him a birth certificate (p. 95). What other quotations or literary references extend the scope and resonance of the story? What purpose do they serve in the overall scheme of the novel? For example, what do they suggest about Carey's feelings about "serious" literature and its acolytes?

11. The creature's hold over Chubb reaches a climax when he kidnaps Nousette's baby and raises her as his own. How does Chubb's unrelenting pursuit of the pair—as well as the creature's ability to convince the little girl that Chubb is an evil spirit (p. 208)—mirror the creative process and the fears, hopes, and ambitions that drive an artist?

12. My Life as a Fake is narrated by Sarah, but the voices of Slater, Chubb, and McCorkle take over at various crucial points. What effect does this have on your reactions to the events? Whose point of view seems the most reliable and why?

13. On his death bed, McCorkle gives Chubb a manuscript with the "fierce sarcastic title, My Life as a Fake." (p. 256). In what ways does the title sum up not only McCorkle's life, but also the life stories of each of the other three major characters?

14. While the Ern Malley scandal is familiar to Australian readers and students of literary hoaxes, it is probably unknown to most American readers. In what ways might this affect the reader's response to the novel? Does it stand entirely on its own or would knowledge of the actual events enhance the reading experience? Why do you think Carey chose to explain the sources of the novel in an afterword rather than in an introduction or prologue?

15. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the monster destroys Victor Frankenstein, the brilliant scientist who created him. One of the major themes of that novel is the danger of unfettered scientific inquiry and experimentation. Are there similarities between Chubb's motivations and those of Dr. Frankenstein? In drawing on the theme and structure of Frankenstein for My Life as a Fake, what is Carey saying about the nature of genius? Are superior minds and talents exempt from the ethical guidelines of ordinary society?

16. Carey appropriated and reanimated the plot of Dickens's Great Expectations in a previous novel, Jack Maggs, and his Booker Prize–winning True History of the Kelly Gang retells the story of one of Australia's most famous real-life legends. In My Life as a Fake, Carey exploits both literary devices, imposing the framework of a classic work of fiction on an historical event. How does the juxtaposition illuminate Carey's definition of "creativity" and the role of the fiction writer? To what extent does the history of literature represent an ongoing endeavor to conflate reality and make-believe, and give the world an utterly original creation?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2003

    I could not put this down

    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!)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2009

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