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True History of the Kelly Gang [NOOK Book]

Overview

“I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.”

In True History of the Kelly Gang, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semiliterate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a ...
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True History of the Kelly Gang

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Overview

“I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.”

In True History of the Kelly Gang, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semiliterate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer. To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged. Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Winner of the 2001 Booker Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In this masterful performance, two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey, author of Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs, rescues the legacy of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly from the colonial compost with his ironically titled novel, True History of the Kelly Gang. In a bold and ingenious act of historical ventriloquism, Kelly's "true history" -- which won the 2001 Booker Prize -- is presented in the form of several idiosyncratic journals supposedly written by the outlaw himself and dedicated to his unborn daughter, so that the real tale of his life might be preserved and remembered.

While the historical record portrays Kelly as a ruthless crook and brutal murderer, Carey's Kelly is an essentially good person whom circumstance has forced into a life of crime -- a criminal with a heart of gold. Our impulse as Americans is to compare Kelly to Jesse James or John Dillinger, but the hero of True History is at war with a system not merely for personal gain but also to effect political change, and he therefore might better be likened to our Founding Fathers.

Born and raised in the Australian state of Victoria to Irish parents, Ned Kelly and his siblings have been mired in troubles for as long as they can remember (their father being a former convict and their mother a member of the Quinn family, notorious local rabble-rousers). After an attempt at leading a straight life after becoming well acquainted with the insides of various prisons during his early years, young Kelly soon yields to fate and takes up horse stealing and bank robbery as a means to provide for his mother, his wife, and his unborn child. Swept along for the ride, as it were, are his brother and two pals. Faced with adversity each step of the way in the guise of evil constables and determined colonial magistrates, the gang come to realize that there is no way out of the life they are leading, apart from fleeing overseas or turning themselves in. Kelly refuses to flee until his mother, who has been wrongly jailed, is set free.

Newspaper accounts of their exploits distort the facts, naturally, depicting the Kelly Gang as a dangerous band of marauders. While the political authorities mount an effort to stamp them out, local farmers and businessman come to their aid and offer protection. They perceive Kelly not as a criminal but as a Robin Hood out to make a better life for everyone. At one point, he even drafts a 60-plus-page letter explaining himself to the public, but the papers refuse to publish it. Gradually the tension builds and the Kellys are tracked down, and their trail leads to one final showdown, complete with a St. Crispin's speech that rivals any in literature.

True History of the Kelly Gang is that rare species of novel that is at once impossible to put down and magnificently original, lyrical, and literary. Carey's unpunctuated prose reminds one of William Faulkner, while the hero's epic adventure brings to mind contemporary western writer Cormac McCarthy. But the supreme achievement is Kelly's voice, for that is what moves the story, and that, chiefly, is what seduces us into his favor. We believe so strongly in his innate goodness that we forgive him his sins and root for him to the end.

--Frances Fuoco

Jaime James
There's no such thing as a typical Peter Carey novel. The Booker-winning Oscar and Lucinda (1988) was an eccentric epic set in the Australian outback, while Jack Maggs (1988) was an elegant ingenious literary deconstruction of Dickens' Great Expectations. His new novel, True History of the Kelly Gang is a remarkable achievement, and it rewards the persistent reader with a powerful emotional experience. The research is impressively detailed, and Mr. Carey rarely succumbs to the temptation to flaunt it. If you want punctuation and good grammer and a coherent point of view, then go read somebody else's book. But if you want the true history of the Kelly gang, this is it.
Wall Street Journal
From The Critics
Nineteenth-century Australian frontier outlaw Ned Kelly remains ambiguous—he was a killer, a martyr, a petty thief, a calculating leader of a murderous gang. The son of dirt-poor Irish immigrants, Kelly was a criminal by the time he was a teen- ager. He was hanged at twenty-five, after evading authorities for years and gaining a considerable following among lower-class Australians, who revered him for rebelling against rich, domineering Anglo landlords. Carey, who won the Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda, teases something else out of the legend: the tragedy of a would-be author, desperately trying to control the shape and meaning of his own story. Carey has fashioned a prose marvel; Kelly is doomed by prejudice, misunderstanding, distorted newspaper accounts, gossip—all made worse by a rigid code of honor and a naive belief that "if a man could tell his true story to Australians he might be believed." Here we have the voice of the outlaw himself, telling his tale as he lives it, becoming less of a man and more of a myth with each page.
—Jeff Ousborne

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Every Australian grows up hearing the legend of outlaw Ned Kelly, whose exploits are memorialized in the old Melbourne Gaol, where he and his comrades were imprisoned before their execution in 1880. Carey's inspired "history" of Kelly from his destitute youth until his death at age 26 is as genuine as a diamond in the rough. No reader will be left unmoved by this dramatic tale of an instinctively good-hearted young man whose destiny, in Carey's revisionist point of view, was determined by heredity on one side and official bigotry and corruption on the other; whose criminal deeds were motivated by gallantry and desperation; and whose exploits in eluding the police for almost two years transfixed a nation and made him a popular hero. The unschooled Kelly narrates through a series of letters he writes to the baby daughter he will never see. Conveyed in run-on sentences, with sparse punctuation and quirky grammar enriched by pungent vernacular and the polite use of euphemisms for what Kelly calls "rough expressions" ("It were eff this and ess that"; "It were too adjectival hot"), Kelly's voice is mesmerizing as he relates the events that earned him a reputation as a horse thief and murderer. Through Ned's laconic observations, Carey creates a textured picture of Australian society when the British ruling class despised the Irish, and both the police and the justice system were thoroughly corrupt. Harassed, slandered, provoked and jailed with impunity, the Kellys, led by indomitable, amoral matriarch Ellen, believe they have no recourse but to break the law. Ned is initially reluctant; throughout his life, his criminal activities are an attempt to win his mother's love and approval. Ellen is a monster of selfishness and treachery. She betrays her son time and again, yet he adores her with Irish sentimentality and forfeits his chance to escape the country by pledging to surrender if the authorities will release her from jail. This is in essence an adventure saga, with numerous descriptions of the wild and forbidding Australian landscape, shocking surprises, coldhearted villains who hail from the top and the bottom of the social ladder and a tender love story. Carey (Booker Prize-winner Oscar and Lucinda) deserves to be lionized in his native land for this triumphant historical recreation, and he will undoubtedly win a worldwide readership for a novel that teems with energy, suspense and the true story of a memorable protagonist. (Jan. 16) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Whether it is possible to write the "true" history of anything in a work of fiction is an irony that underlies Carey's wonderful new novel. Ned Kelly grows up dirt poor in the 19th-century Australian outback. His father was remanded from British-controlled Ireland, and his mother's family are all crooks. Living conditions are primitive and abominable, and law enforcement is corrupt, serving only monied and personal interests. Though his mother apprentices him to the notorious highwayman Harry Power, Kelly retains a powerful sense of justice until an injustice done to him cannot be ignored. Leading his brother and two friends on a series of spectacular bank robberies, he evades the authorities for nearly two years and wins huge popular support. The narrative is composed as if it were a letter to Kelly's daughter, employing a style and argot that while always rich is sometimes incomprehensible to the American ear. Nevertheless, the novel is a tour de force akin to an American Western. Though Kelly may or may not have been the sterling character Carey makes him, his life has been turned into formidable fiction. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/00.]--Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Not many outside of Australia have heard of Ned Kelly, the heavily mythologized bushranger (outlaw) who lived out his short 25 years in Victoria during the last half of the 19th century. Carey's True History means to change this, portraying Ned sympathetically as one fated to live hard and die young. Born into destitution, handed over to a notorious bushranger when barely in his teens, mistreated by authoritarian police, Kelly grew into the Down Under equivalent of a Jesse James or Robin Hood. He was hated and hunted by the wealthy and by law-enforcement establishment, but accepted and aided by the common folk. Carey tells Kelly's story via 13 "parcels" supposedly written by the young man himself to the infant daughter he'll never see so that she might "finally comprehend the injustice we poor Irish suffered." Since Carey's prose is consistent with the vernacular of an illiterate youth, the spelling and grammar leave much to be desired and the minimal punctuation can lead to momentary confusion, making it somewhat of a challenging read. Nevertheless, the simple yet penetrating depiction of a harsh life in harsh times, of betrayal and prejudice, of love and camaraderie is so affecting a tale that readers cannot resist being drawn in. "True" history it may not be, but historical fiction doesn't get much better than this.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Though over a century has passed since the Australian authorities hanged him, Ned Kelly retains a mythical hold on the minds of individuals who romanticize a criminal with an honorable moral fiber. In 1879-1880, Kelly and his cohorts elude the police for about twenty months, desperately doing daring deeds that capture the soul of a nation. Yet in the end he fails to achieve his goal of winning the approval of his mother, but Ellen betrayed her family and Ned whenever it was convenient. This is an exciting biographical fiction that brings to life a country and its people in the late nineteenth century. Although one-sided by turning Kelly into a glamorous heroic victim of society and his family, he retains all the allure that makes him an epic hero. The story line is well written and grips the reader from start to finish with the action adventure of a Zane Gray western tale. Award winning Peter Carey shows why he is one of the best authors with this uncanny novel that brings forth a legendary man.
Janet Maslin
In a spectacular feat of literary ventriloquism, the Australian-born novelist Peter Carey invites the outlaw Ned Kelly to tell his story. He summons the rollicking, unschooled, hugely colorful voice of Australia's best-known underdog for a bravura book-length performance. Writing so convincingly in Ned's argot that his own elegantly phrased acknowledgments at the end of True History of the Kelly Gang seem starkly incongruous, the Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda invests Ned's account with all the makings of a swaggering adventure tale as well as a classic Western tragedy. The effect is triumphantly eclectic, as if Huck Finn and Shakespeare had joined forces to prettify the legend of Jesse James...a seamlessly imagined coming-of-age story set in wild country and wilder times. Though Ned Kelly died in 1880 just before his 26th birthday, he could not be more furiously alive.
New York Times
Anthony Quinn
The form and style of the novel could hardly be more striking . . . Bristling with shafts of wit and poetic grace notes . . . Packed with incident, alive with comedy and pathos, True History of the Kelly Gang contains pretty much everything you could ask of a novel. It is an adjectival wonder.
New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
“A spectacular feat of imagination.”–The Boston Globe

“Vastly entertaining…. Triumphantly eclectic, as if Huck Finn and Shakespeare had joined forces to prettify the legend of Jesse James.”–The New York Times

“The ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear that the novelist brings to his feat of imposture cannot be rated too high.”–John Updike, The New Yorker

“Carey succeeds in creating an account that not only feels authentic but also passes as a serious novel and solid, old-fashioned ‘entertainment.’ A big, meaty novel, blending Dickens and Cormac McCarthy with a distinctly
Australian strain of melancholy.”–San Francisco Chronicle

“Abravura performance…. Rewards the persistent reader with a powerful emotional experience.”–The Wall Street Journal

“Carey’s pen writes with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas Jefferson and perhaps even a bodhisattva.”–Los Angeles Times

“The power and charm of [this book] arise not from fidelity to facts but rather from the voice Carey invents for Ned Kelly….”–Time

“So adroit that you never doubt it’s Kelly’s own words you’re reading in the headlong, action-packed story.”–Newsweek

“This novel is worth our best attention.”–The Washington Post Book World

“An avalanche of a novel…. Cary has raised a national legend to the level of an international myth.”–Christian Science Monitor

“Packed with incident, alive with comedy and pathos . . . contains pretty much everything you could ask of a novel.” –The New York Times Book Review

“The ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear that the novelist brings to his feat of imposture cannot be rated too high.” –John Updike, The New Yorker

“Carey’s pen writes with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas Jefferson and perhaps even a bodhisattva.” –Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307429834
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Series: Vintage International
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 255,489
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Carey lives in New York City.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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

TITLE: TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG

Parcel 1

His Life until the Age of 12

National Bank letterhead. Almost certainly taken from the Euroa Branch of the National Bank in December 1878. There are 45 sheets of medium stock (8" 3 10" approx.) with stabholes near the top where at one time they were crudely bound. Heavily soiled.

Contains accounts of his early relations with police including an accusation of transvestism. Some recollections of the Quinn family and the move to the township of Avenel. A claim that his father was wrongly arrested for the theft of Murray’s heifer. A story explaining the origins of the sash presently held by the Benalla Historical Society. Death of John Kelly.

I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.

God willing I shall live to see you read these words to witness your astonishment and see your dark eyes widen and your jaw drop when you finally comprehend the injustice we poor Irish suffered in this present age. How queer and foreign it must seem to you and all the coarse words and cruelty which I now relate are far away in ancient time.

Your grandfather were a quiet and secret man he had been ripped from his home in Tipperary and transported to the prisons of Van Diemen’s Land I do not know what was done to him he never spoke of it. When they had finished with their tortures they set him free and he crossed the sea to the colony of Victoria. He were by this time 30 yr. of age red headed and freckled with his eyes always slitted against the sun. My da had sworn an oath to evermore avoid the attentions of the law so when he saw the streets of Melbourne was crawling with policemen worse than flies he walked 28 mi. to the township of Donnybrook and then or soon thereafter he seen my mother. Ellen Quinn were 18 yr. old she were dark haired and slender the prettiest figure on a horse he ever saw but your grandma was like a snare laid out by God for Red Kelly. She were a Quinn and the police would never leave the Quinns alone.

My 1st memory is of Mother breaking eggs into a bowl and crying that Jimmy Quinn my 15 yr. old uncle were arrested by the traps. I don’t know where my daddy were that day nor my older sister Annie. I were 3 yr. old. While my mother cried I scraped the sweet yellow batter onto a spoon and ate it the roof were leaking above the camp oven each drop hissing as it hit.

My mother tipped the cake onto the muslin cloth and knotted it. Your Aunt Maggie were a baby so my mother wrapped her also then she carried both cake and baby out into the rain. I had no choice but follow up the hill how could I forget them puddles the colour of mustard the rain like needles in my eyes.

We arrived at the Beveridge Police Camp drenched to the bone and doubtless stank of poverty a strong odour about us like wet dogs and for this or other reasons we was excluded from the Sergeant's room. I remember sitting with my chilblained hands wedged beneath the door I could feel the lovely warmth of the fire on my fingertips. Yet when we was finally permitted
entry all my attention were taken not by the blazing fire but by a huge red jowled creature the Englishman who sat behind the desk. I knew not his name only that he were the most powerful man I ever saw and he might destroy my mother if he so desired.

Approach says he as if he was an altar.

My mother approached and I hurried beside her. She told the Englishman she had baked a cake for his prisoner Quinn and would be most obliged to deliver it because her husband were absent and she had butter to churn and pigs to feed.

No cake shall go to the prisoner said the trap I could smell his foreign spicy smell he had a handlebar moustache and his scalp were shining through his hair.

Said he No cake shall go to the prisoner without me inspecting it 1st and he waved his big soft white hand thus indicating my mother should place her basket on his desk. He untied the muslin his fingernails so clean they looked like they was washed in lye and to this day I can see them livid instruments as they broke my mother’s cake apart.

Tis not poverty I hate the mostnor the eternal grovellingbut the insults which grow on itwhich not even leeches can cure

I will lay a quid that you have already been told the story of how your grandma won her case in court against Bill Frost and then led wild gallops up and down the main street of Benalla. You will know she were never a coward but on this occasion she understood she must hold her tongue and so she wrapped the warm crumbs in the cloth and walked out into the rain. I
cried out to her but she did not hear so I followed her skirts across the muddy yard. At 1st I thought it an outhouse on whose door I found her hammering it come as a shock to realise my young uncle were locked inside. For the great offence of duffing a bullock with cancer of the eye he were interred in this earth floored slab hut which could not have measured more than 6 ft. 3 6 ft. and here my mother were forced to kneel in the mud and push the broken cake under the door the gap v. narrow perhaps 2 in. not sufficient for the purpose.

She cried God help us Jimmy what did we ever do to them that they should torture us like this?

My mother never wept but weep she did and I rushed and clung to her and kissed her but still she could not feel that I were there. Tears poured down her handsome face as she forced the muddy mess of cake and muslin underneath the door.

She cried I would kill the b-----ds if I were a man God help me. She used many rough expressions I will not write them here. It were eff this and ess that and she would blow their adjectival brains out.

These was frightening sentiments for a boy to hear his mamma speak but I did not know how set she were until 2 nights later when my father returned home and she said the exact same things again to him.

You don’t know what you’re talking about said he.

You are a coward she cried. I blocked my ears and buried my face into my floursack pillow but she would not give up and neither would my father turn against the law. I wish I had known my parents when they truly loved each other.

You will see in time your grandfather were a man of secrets and what he said and done was different things though for now it is enough to know my mother had one idea about my father and the police the opposite. She thought him Michael Meek. They knew him as a graduate of Van Diemen's Land and a criminal by birth and trade and marriage they was constantly
examining the brands on our stock or sifting through our flour for signs of larceny but they never found nothing except mouse manure they must have had a mighty craving for the taste.

Nor was your grandmother as unfriendly towards the police as you would expect if solely instructed by her testimony she might of wished to murder them but would not mind a little drink and joke before she done the deed. There was one Sergeant his name O'Neil my mother seemed to like him better than the rest. I am talking now of a later time I must have been 9 yr. of age for our sister Kate had just been born. Our father were away contracting and our small hut were more crowded than ever now there was 6 children all sleeping between the maze of patchwork curtains Mother hung to make up for the lack of walls. It were like living in a cupboard full of dresses.

Into this shadowy world Sgt O'Neil did come with queer white hair which he were always combing like a girl before a dance he were v. friendly to us children and on the night in question he brung me the gift of a pencil. At school we used the slates but I never touched a pencil and was most excited to smell the sweet pine and graphite as the Sergeant sharpened his gift he were very fatherly towards me and set me at one end of the table with a sheet of paper. My sister Annie were 1 yr. older she got nothing from O'Neil but thats another story.

I set to work to cover my paper with the letters of the alphabet. My mother sat at the other end of the table with the Sgt and when he produced his silver flask I paid no more attention than I did to Annie & Jem & Maggie & Dan. After I made each letter as a capital I set to do the smaller ones such were my concentration that when my mother spoke her voice seemed very far away.

Get out of my house.

I looked up to discover Sergeant O'Neil with his hand to his cheek I suppose she must of slapped him for his countenance were turned v. red.

Get out my mother shrieked she had the Irish temper we was accustomed to it.

Ellen you calm yourself you know I never meant nothing in the least improper.

Eff off my mother cried.

The policeman’s voice took a sterner character. Ellen said he you must not use such language to a police officer.

That were a red rag to my mother she uncoiled herself from her seat. You effing mongrel she cried her voice louder again. You wouldnt say that if my husband were not gone contracting.

I will issue one more warning Mrs Kelly.

At this my mother snatched up the Sergeant’s teacup and threw the contents onto the earthen floor. Arrest me she cried arrest me you coward.

Baby Kate woke crying then. Jem were 4 yr. old sitting on the floor playing knuckles but when the brandy splashed beside him he let the bones lie quiet. Of a different disposition I begun to move towards my mother.

Did you hear your mother call me a coward old chap?

I would not betray her I walked round the table and stood next to her. Said he You was busy writing Ned?

I took my mother’s hand and she put her arm around my shoulder.

You are a scholar aint it he asked me.

I said I were.

Then you must know about the history of cowards. I were confused I shook my head.

Next O'Neil was bouncing to his feet and showing the full hard stretch of his policeman’s boots said he Let me educate you young man. No said my mother her manner now completely changed. Please no.

A moment earlier O'Neil had a stiff and worried air but now there was a dainty sort of prance about him. O yes said he all children should know their history indeed it is quite essential.

My mother wrenched her hand from mine and reached out but the Ulsterman ducked behind the 1st set of curtains and emerged to prowl in and out and around our family he even patted little Dan upon his silky head. My mother were afraid her face was pale and frozen. Please Kevin.

But O'Neil was telling us his story we had to quiet to listen to him he had the gift. It were a story of a man from Tipperary named only A Certain Man or This Person Who I Will Not Name. He said A Certain Man had a grudge against a farmer for lawfully evicting his tenant and This Person etc. conspired with his mates to kill the farmer.

I’m sorry said my mother I already apologised.

Sgt O'Neil made a mocking bow continuing his story without relent telling how This Certain Man did 1st write a threatening letter to the landlord. When the landlord ignored the letter and evicted the tenant This Certain Man called a select meeting of his allies to a chapel in the dead of night where they drank whisky from the Holy Goblet and swore upon the Holy Book then he said to them Brothers for we are all brothers sworn upon all thats blessed and Holy. Brothers are you ready in the name of God to fulfil your oaths? They said they was they swore it and when they done their blasphemy they descended upon the farmer’s house with pikes and faggots burning.

Sergeant O'Neil seemed much affected by his own story his voice grew loud he said the farmer’s children screamed for mercy at the windows but the men set their home alight and those who escaped they piked to death there was mothers and babes in arms the Sgt would not spare us either he painted the outrage in every detail we children were all silent open mouthed not only at the horror of the crime but also the arrest of the Guilty Parties and the treachery of This Certain Man who betrayed all he had drawn into his conspiracy. The accomplices was hanged by the neck until dead and the Ulsterman let us imagine how this might be he did not conceal the particulars.

What happened then he asked we could not answer nor speak nor did we wish to hear.

This Certain Man kept his life he were transported to Van Diemen's Land. And with that Sergeant O'Neil strode out our door into the night.

Mother said nothing further she did not move not even when we heard the policeman's mare cantering along the dark road up the hill to Beveridge I asked her what was meant by This Certain Man and she give me such a clip across the ears I never asked again. In time I understood it were my own father that was referred to.

The memory of the policeman's words lay inside me like the egg of a liver fluke and while I went about my growing up this slander wormed deeper and deeper into my heart and there grew fat.

Sergeant O’Neil had filled my boy’s imagination with thoughts that would breed like maggots on a summer day you would think his victory complete but he begun to increase his harassment of my father rousing him from bed when he were drunk or fast asleep he also needled and teased me whenever he seen me in the street.

He would mock the way I dressed my lack of shoes and coats. I were all knees and elbows and shy of any comment I couldnt walk past the Police Camp with my friends without him calling out some insult. I pretended to be amused for I would not give him the satisfaction of seeing blood.

It were during Sgt O’Neil’s hateful reign we heard Mr Russell of Foster Downs Station was to sell off a great mob of bullocks and cows in calf also a famous bull he was said to have brought from England for 500 quid. It were a much bigger event than we was accustomed to in Beveridge just a straggly village on a difficult hill reviled by all the bullockies between Melbourne and the Murray River. 1/2 way up the hill were a pub and blacksmith and portable lockup then farther west a Catholic school. That hill were too much effort even for the bitter winds which turned around and come howling back towards our hut below. West of the road the water were salt. Our side had good water but it were still known as Pleurisy Plains. No one ever come to Beveridge for their health.

The sale changed all that and suddenly there was squatters and stock agents come to visit even a veterinarian from Melbourne all these strangers set up camp beside the swamp between our place and the hill. There was gaffing & flash talk & grog drinking & galloping up & down the Melbourne road it were good as a circus to us boys to hang about the boggy crossing and see the fancy riding. Day by day Jem and me run the long way to school to see what new tents were set up at the swamp. We was on tenterhooks awaiting the beasts but it were not until dusk on the day before the Auction we heard that particular mournful bellowing on the wind it were a mob of cattle being driven over a track they did not know.

I told Jem I was going to meet them.

Me too.

We wasnt finished tending to the pigs and chooks we did not care our feet was bare the ground were hard and rocky though we was used to it and run right through the Indian corn. Said Jem We’ll be whipped.

I don’t care.

I don’t care neither.

We had just gained the swamp bulrushes when the beasts come into view flooding down the smooth green hill of Beveridge like a breaking wave it were the gleaming wealth of all the nations pouring down towards us and the water. Cor look at them blacks said Jem.

Of the 7 stockmen 5 was blackfellows they rode ahead of the coming storm with flash red scarves round their necks and elastic sided boots upon their feet. Said Jem Look at them boots.

Damn them I said. Yes damn them said Jem we was raised to think the blacks the lowest of the low but they had boots not us and we damned and double damned them as we run. Soon we gained the rutted ruined Melbourne road where we passed Patchy Moran he were 16 yr. old rawboned and lanky but we was faster any day.

Wait you little b––––rs.

But we wouldnt wait for Patchy or no one else splashing through Boggy Crossing to the splintery top rail of the yard. Moran made no comment on our victory but lit himself a cigarette and the leftover beard of tobacco fell in glowing cinders to the earth. Look at them effing niggers.

We already seen them.

I heard the rattle of a bridle and turned to see my father’s tormentor had ridden up behind us Sgt O’Neil had his stirrup leathers so long the iron could be held only with the tip of the toes it were the English fashion. His horse was 17 hands he thought himself high and mighty but if you had give any of us boys a pony we would of left him in the dust.

Patchy Moran said Look at them niggers Sergeant did you see their adjectival boots how much would that cost do you reckon Sir boots like that?

O’Neil did not answer but leaned forward in his saddle looking down at me beneath the visor of his shako his eyes as watery as a jar of gin. Ah young Kelly he said.

Hello Sergeant said I so accustomed to his teasing that I thought Moran’s remark about the blackfellows’ boots would lead to comments about my own bare feet. Said I thats a mighty bull they got by Jove we heard he was worth 500 quid.

Said O’Neil I just saw your father. I knew from his lazy drawl he had something worse than shoes to hurt me with. He said I just seen Red Kelly galloping across Horan’s paddocks dressed like a woman can you picture that now?

I couldnt see the policeman’s expression in the failing light but he spoke so very conversationally. Patchy Moran laughed but stopped midbreath I looked towards poor little Jem he sat on the rail staring grimly at the ground his brow furrowed in a torture of confusion and my friends gone v. quiet around me.

Pull the other one Sergeant.

Your father was seen by Mr McClusky and Mr Willett and myself he was wearing a dress with roses on its hem can you ever imagine such a thing?

Not me but you can Sergeant its the very thing you just done.

You watch your lip young fellow do you hear? When your father saw us he galloped away down the north face of Big Hill. He can ride I grant him that but do you know why he would go that way?

No.

Oh said the Sergeant he was off to be serviced by his husband I suppose.

I leapt upon his high armoured boot I tried to twist him off his saddle but he only laughed and swung his horse around so I was almost crushed against the fence.

Thus were the great day destroyed. I told Patchy Moran I did not come to see a nigger show Jem said he did not want to see one neither. We walked home together through the dark. We did not say much but was very melancholic. She’ll strop us won’t she Ned?

No she won’t.

But of course our mother had the razor strop laid out ready on the table she hit my hand 3 times and Jem once. We never told her what O’Neil had said.

I doubt I had the courage to repeat O’Neil’s slander to my father but I were anyway denied the opportunity for he had departed once again to shear the fat merino sheep for Mr Henry Buckley of Gnawarra Station. As it were spring he should of been engaged on his own land but couldnt afford it and on the way to Gnawarra he nearly died.

A vicious Sydney black by the name of Warragul had gotten a mob together made of the remnants of different tribes my father had done nothing against Warragul but when he arrived at the Murray River near Barnawatha a shower of spears sailed out of the bush and struck his donkey dead beneath him. My father dragged his carbine from its saddle holster and by careful use of his remaining powder were able to keep Warragul’s mob at bay until dark. Then he retreated into an abandoned hut he barricaded the door and windows and so imagined himself safe but in the early hours of the morning he woke.

The roof were on fire and the hut surrounded by shouting savages.

He used the last of his powder to shoot into the faces of blackfellows who was peering through the gaps between the logs but when the powder were gone he had nothing more to look forward to than death and begun to say his prayers while the blacks thrust their spears through the gaps. The roof were already burning falling in lumps when Father paused from praying long enough to realise the spears was only entering from the front. He removed the barricade from the rear window and with the blacks keeping watch on one side of his funeral pyre he made his way out the downwind side thereafter hiding in a hollow log for 2 days before he were discovered by Mr Henry Buckley himself and thus finally delivered to Gnawarra.

At the time my father had been battling for his very life Sergeant O’Neil’s slander spread about the Catholic school the source of this contagion being Patchy Moran.

I cautioned him. You say that one more time I’ll whip you.

Patchy Moran were a good foot taller his voice broken like a man. Said he You are an adjectival tinker you can’t give me orders.

And with that he punched me in the temple so I fell.

Regaining my feet I faced him again he hit me hard enough to push the pudding out of me. I were bent over wheezing to get my wind back he called out I were a sissy and the son of a sissy. He seemed a giant all hair and pimples I thought he soon would kill me but I closed with him on the barren ground beneath the peppercorn tree and then by skill or luck I got round his dirty neck and pulled him to the ground. How he hollered to be brung down how he kicked & bucked & twisted rolling me amongst the tree roots and the gravel. I felt a red hot sting on my back and rolled him over. There were a bull ant also fastened to his pimply neck.

I wouldnt let him go not even when I felt a 2nd bite myself I hope you may live your life without a bull ant bite for it is worse than any wasp or bee. Patchy howled in my arms cursing and pleading but I held his shoulders to the earth as he thrashed and drove his tormentors into greater fury still.

Take it back.

He bawled the snot run down his lip.

Take it back.

He said he would not take it back but in the end he couldnt tolerate the pain he cried Damn you damn your eyes I take it back. Brother Hearn heard his blasphemies so did 16 other scholars standing by the schoolhouse door observing us. No one said nothing they stood v. quiet and watched Patchy Moran rip off his shirt and britches the girls all saw his private skin.

I were soon ill from my great number of bites but no one said no more about my father from that time.

I thought my problems over and I once again imagined there were never a better place on earth than where I lived at Pleurisy Plains. I could not conceive a better soil or prettier view or trees that did not grow crooked in the winds. I were often in the swamp it were a world entire with eels and bird eggs and tiger snakes we tried to race them along the Melbourne
road. Then one mild and dewy morning I went out to find some worms and discovered my younger sister Maggie seated on a cairn of them brown pitted rocks the ancient volcanoes had throwed around the plains of Beveridge. Our father often had us busy tidying the earth in this manner. This particular pile of rocks was in a thistlepatch near our back door and Maggie were using it as a throne while she squeezed milk from the thistles onto her warts. She asked would I please squeeze some on a difficult place behind her elbow.

I were very fond of Maggie she were always my favourite sister as true and steady as a red gum plank. As I set down my worms and dripped the white sap over her warts she warned she had found something I would not like.

What?

You’ll have to move them rocks.

I already moved them once.

You better do it again.

There were no more than 8 rocks Maggie helped me roll them to one side and I discovered the freshly broken earth beneath.

Its something dead.

It aint nothing dead.

From down amongst the thistles she produced an old gooseneck shovel with a broken handle.

I took it from her hand and dug until I uncovered something hard and black it were 3 ft. 3 2 ft. It were also deep so I levered and jemmied and soon dragged a battered tin trunk out to the light of day. It were inside that trunk I found the thing I wish I never saw.

It were a woman’s dress v. soiled along the hem the roses was exactly as Sgt O’Neil had said. There was also masks made of red paint and feather I hardly seen them it were the dress that made my stomach knot a mighty anger come upon me.

I heard our sister Annie calling and I whispered I would kill Maggie if ever she mentioned what we seen. Her dark little eyes welled up with tears.

Annie were demanding I bring firewood she come down the path in a mighty fret with her thin shoulders hunched forward and her hands upon her hips. If youse don’t come now you’ll get no adjectival dinner.

I split the wood all right but then carried it back to the thistlepatch and made a fireplace from the rocks.

What are you doing? You can’t do that you know it aint permitted.

Just the same she give me the matches I asked for. She were a worrywart she retreated back to the doorway while I burned the horrid contents of the trunk. By the time she come back I were poking the last bits of dress into the flames.

She asked me what I were destroying but all us children had suffered from O’Neil’s story and she knew the answer to her question well enough.

Said Annie You better bury that trunk. Her face were pinched her mouth set with worry she were only 11 yr. old but she must of already saw her future it were written on her face for all to see.

A 2nd time she ordered me to hide the trunk so I dragged it down the back and shoved it under the lower rail of the horse yard.

You can’t do that.

I pulled the trunk through all the manure into the middle of the yard.

You’ll get the strop said she.

I never doubted it would be worse than that and when our father come ambling up the track 3 days later I awaited my thrashing it were as sure as eggs turn into chickens.

At 1st he didnt see the trunk he were surveying his crop of Indian corn doubtless pleased he had not been speared or burned and had money in his pocket. But finally he saw his broken secret lying in the air and while the little children all run around crying for him to dismount he stared silently down at the blackened trunk his eyes small inside their puffy lids.

Where’s your ma?

Baby Kate took ill she’s gone to Wallan to the Doctor.

My father dismounted and then carried his saddle and bags into the hut I were waiting by the door to get my punishment but he never even looked at me. After a little while he gone up the pub.

I lost my own father from a secret he might as well been snatched by a roiling river fallen from a ravine I lost him from my heart so long I cannot even now properly make the place for him that he deserves. Forever after I unearthed his trunk I pictured him with his broad red beard his strong arms his freckled skin all his manly features buttoned up inside that cursed dress.

Up to that point I had been his shadow never losing a chance to be with him. In the bush he taught the knots I use to tie my blanket to my saddle Ds also the way I stand to use a carpenter’s plane and the trick of catching fish with a bush fly and a strip of greenhide these things are like the dark marks made in the rings of great trees locked forever in my daily self.

I don’t know if my mother realised what were hidden in the trunk she never said nothing and it were left to lie in the middle of the dusty yard and when it rained the horses drank from it.

A rich man driving his buggy past our home might see the tin trunk in the yard and the pumpkins growing on the skillion roof but he would never imagine all my father’s issue the great number of us packed behind the curtains breathing the same air snoring farting blind and deaf to each other as a newborn litter.

I had long taught myself to be deaf to my parents’ private business but after digging up that trunk I would stay awake at night listening to my mother and my father talking.

I learned not a thing about the dress I discovered it were land my parents whispered about and in particular the Duffy Land Act of 1862 it gave a man or widow the right to select a block between 50 and 640 acres for £1 per acre part payable on selection the rest over 8 yr. My mother were for it but my father were against it he said the great Charles Gavan Duffy was a
well intentioned idiot leading poor men into debt and lifelong labour. He were correct as it happened but when my mother abused my da for cowardice the terrible turmoil in my heart were somehow soothed. Only a simpleton she said would try to farm 20 acres like my da were doing. I thought yes you must be a mighty fool.

This debate about the Land Act were life or death and my mother enlisted her family who was presently our neighbours but in the midst of buying land far away in the North East.

The Quinns was purchasing 1,000 acres at Glenmore on the King River they was Irish and therefore drunk with land and fancy horses all the old hardships soon to be forgotten. The Quinn women come visiting with soda bread and surveyor’s maps the men was tall and reckless they cursed and sang they fought anyone they did not like and rode thoroughbreds they could not afford to buy. My uncle Jimmy Quinn were a man by now there were a dreadful wildness in his eyes like a horse that has been tortured. The Quinns would of tossed my father down the well if they had seen the dress but they chivvied and joked and finally prevailed upon him to sell everything he owned in Beveridge he got a total of £80.

But when my da finally had the cash put in his hand the thought of giving the government so large a sum were more than he could bear and when the new owners arrived to take possession he borrowed a cart and shifted us to rented land on the outskirts of the township of Avenel. So while my mother’s brothers and sisters went on to farm 1,000 virgin acres at Glenmore my father transported us 60 mi. to a district of English snobs and there to my mother’s great outrage he slowly pissed away the 80 quid on rent and booze. I were his flesh and he must of felt me draw further away but he were proud and did not try to win me back.

The question of our lost opportunity were now always present my mother could not leave it alone my father would sit solid in his chair and quietly rub the belly of his big black cat. I am thinking now of one night in particular when he broke his silence.

Your family arent bad fellows said he at last.

If you’re planning to speak ill of them you can stop right there.

Oh I aint got nothing against them personal.

Of course not they was always good to you.

I’m sure the land will do the job. Them rocks aint nothing but the land can’t touch this land Ellen.

And us with no meat but the adjectival possums.

We aint got beef its true.

Not even mutton.

But do you notice we aint got no police? Now thats an interesting thing I wonder why that is do you imagine your family is as lucky up at Glenmore?

Oh no not this again.

Well you must agree the Quinns attract the traps as surely as rabbit guts will bring the flies.

My mother shrieked a plate or cup were dashed against the wall.

Well Ellen said he I know you’re very low about your farm but I would rather die than go to prison.

You great galoot no one wants to put you in prison.

So you say.

No one she cried her voice rising. Are you mad?

And why was the traps always visiting us do you imagine?

You have been a free man 15 yr. they don’t want you back again.

The Quinns bring attention its the truth.

O you adjectival worm.

My mother were now sobbing Maggie also I could hear her little rabbit noises on the far side of the curtain. Then my mother said my father would rather his children starve than take a risk and beside me Jem pulled his pillow tight across his ears.

The land were very good at Avenel but there were a drought and nothing flourished there but misery I were the oldest son I thought it time to earn my place.

There were no dam or spring upon our property each day I took the cows to water them at Hughes Creek. In a good year it would of made a pretty picture but in the drought that creek were no more than a chain of sandy waterholes. It were across this dry river bed that Mr Murray’s heifer calf come calling out my name I were very hungry when I heard her and knew what I must do. I had never killed nothing bigger than a rooster but when I saw the long line of the heifer’s crop above the blackberries I knew I could not be afraid of nothing.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Peter Carey

Barnes & Noble.com caught up with Peter Carey in New York City to discuss fiction, legends, Australia, and True History of the Kelly Gang.

Barnes & Noble.com: Our impulse as American readers is to identify Ned Kelly with our own infamous outlaw Jesse James, but at an early reading you gave from True History of the Kelly Gang you suggested that a more appropriate comparison might be made to Thomas Jefferson. Why is that? What space does Ned Kelly occupy in the Australian mythos?

Peter Carey: There is no doubt that Jesse James and Ned Kelly are both outlaws who are important within their respective cultures, but if you had to draw a pyramid of the hierarchy of things, Jesse James wouldn't be right at the top. You have a lot of other figures who were more important in your cultural life than Jesse James. He'd be up there, but not at the top. The truth of the matter is that we [Australians] really don't have, like you do, political figures, statesmen, philosophers who occupy a huge lot of imaginative space. When my New York friends said to me, "Oh, we get it, that's like Jesse James," I'd say to them it's like Thomas Jefferson, at which they'd laugh, of course. But it was said with the intention of alerting them to the fact that Ned Kelly occupies a huge space in our cultural landscape, and there is no Thomas Jefferson, there is no George Washington or Abe Lincoln. It's a different country.

I was just thinking about this today. If there's an Australian national song it's a song called "Waltzing Mathilda," and it's quite well known. But really what it's about is a swagman -- which is a hobo -- who steals a sheep and then jumps into the water and drowns himself rather than be captured by the police. And this really occupies the same sort of space as "The Star-Spangled Banner," except that our politicians and diplomats are too embarrassed to stand, say, at the Olympic Games and put their hands over their hearts while this song is played about a sheep thief. But we are a country that celebrates these sorts of characters. Now, instead of "Waltzing Mathilda," our national song is a rather dull, bureaucratic thing called "Advance Australia Fair," which nobody likes very much. But Ned Kelly is like that. And the song "Waltzing Mathilda" is sort of like our Statue of Liberty song [Emma Lazarus's "The New Colossus"], because when you sing that song, you inhabit imaginatively the position of the poor and the disposed, and you are those people when you sing the song. It has that emotional effect.

B&N.com: Why did you choose to have Ned Kelly tell his story through imagined notebooks, and how did you develop his voice?

PC: Within the novel, the gang, very late in the story, comes to rob a bank in a little town called Jerilderie, and at that particular time Ned Kelly's passion is to have his story explained to the world, and he's written this 56-page letter which he's eager to have printed and distributed so the government and the people can see how it is that he got into this particular situation, that he's not a bad person, and that this happened and that happened. The historical Ned Kelly did exactly that. So there is this real, 56-page, handwritten document called "The Jerilderie Letter," and it has a very particular style. It's sort of crudely punctuated, the voice of an uneducated but very intelligent man; it's angry, it's funny, and it's a cry for justice. It's an extraordinary document. So I read this -- not the original, but a transcript of it -- 30 or 40 years ago and it really impressed me. As a matter of fact, at that time I had just been reading James Joyce's Ulysses and Samuel Beckett, and there was something about the Irishness and the unpunctuated rush of words that reminded me of something quite literary, but it's not a literary work. And so when the time came when I thought it would be interesting to write the story I had only one thought in my head, which was this voice. Those letters are like having your character's DNA; you can build the man from beyond the grave. Now, of course in the end it's not a parody of that, and there's all sorts of other issues at work.

One of the other powerful factors in this work is that I grew up in a small rural town in the state of Victoria in Australia, not so far from where Ned Kelly lived, and in the late '40s and early '50s I knew kids that talked like that: They'd say, "I come into the room and there he were." And so adopting this voice was a very natural thing for me, and I never really felt like I was making it up, and I never felt hampered by the character's lack of education or vocabulary, because it's like giving voice to the voiceless, in a sense.

B&N.com: What sort of research did you have to do for True History?

PC: I'm sitting here now and I'm looking up at my shelves and my eyes are drifting around. I mean, there are 19th-century books like Australia Illustrated, which is a lovely Victorian travel book. There's a book -- I'm standing up to look at these things -- Horses, Dogs, Birds and Cattle; vet books from the 19th-century; anything that touched the edges of this territory. There's a book called The Drover; they are the people that go around on horseback taking cattle across the outback. I believe in this country the cowboys were first called drovers. Such different, odd little things. There's hardly anything that I read that didn't touch on it somewhere, but most things didn't touch on it directly.

B&N.com: What about the historical Kelly? In the novel you write about these far out newspaper accounts written by people who couldn't have been further removed from the scene. How much of the historical record is to be trusted?

PC: If you go to a library in Australia you'll probably find, let's say, 700 books on Ned Kelly. I didn't care too much about what really happened or didn't happen. I went to Ian Jones, who I think is the most reliable of all the Australian historians of Ned Kelly. And I went to a particular book of his called A Short Life. So when I was looking at the chronology and what happened first and what happened second and third, it was Ian Jones's work that I trusted. And what I was most interested in were the things that had happened in the unimagined dark, if you like, between these highly, brightly illuminated moments in the story. There are all these set pieces that Australians know about: there was this bank robbery; there was this holdup, and so on. I was much more interested in the things that no one had had ever imagined.

B&N.com: And yet my favorite line in the book has to be this: "In the hut at Faithfull's Creek I seen proof that if a man could tell his true history to Australians he might be believed...."

PC: This happens after they do this -- if I might say so -- beautiful bank robbery in the town of Euroa, where they take people from the town hostage and take them out to a property nearby. At that time the press were full of all these stories portraying the Kellys as sadistic murderers and suggesting that they'd cut off the ear of one of the dead policemen, and all this sort of stuff. It's historically true that that night in the shed Ned Kelly addressed the people he'd held captive and explained what had happened, and he made a powerful impression on them.

What I wrote is of course fiction, and the characters are mostly fictitious, the people who'd listened to this, but the general effect is as it was reported. It's a pivotal moment in his life, because this is a boy that grows up in a criminal caste, and many things happen to him, and he does many things. But at this moment he suddenly realizes that he stands for something, and he sees the way the people stand for him, and he elevates himself. And it's from then that he starts to become the folk hero that he is today and was in his own short lifetime.

B&N.com: In addition to your speculations on the "unimagined dark," you make great use of Irish folktales and other local myths and legends. To what degree are our legends more true than our recorded histories?

There are two parts to that. Because this is such a pivotal Australian story -- I mean, it really is a foundation myth -- the child of convicts becoming this particular folk hero; the convict seed producing this child, and so on -- the thing is that he's so important to us Australians that we tend to imagine it as a totally Australian story. And we will say it's an Irish story, because it's about land, but we have not really taken a lot of trouble to imagine what has leeched through from Ireland. You know, these are Irish people, and when I was a kid growing up in the country and my dad was selling cows to potato farmers in Bangoree, it was very Irish; really, really Irish, like in Ireland. So I would imagine that with Ned Kelly and those people there would be a lot of folk custom and stories and ways of looking at the world that would come through from Ireland, but in Australia we don't tend to imagine that. So all these folk stories and ways of looking at things seem an important way to imagine what that story was.

Obviously our history comes from the legends. Speaking about this particular legend, which didn't happen so long ago, they tend to be fuzzily remembered things. And so they start to exist in cartoon outline. And one of my projects was to imagine it vividly and emotionally. The whole notion of calling it True History -- which I intended ironically -- it seemed to me that I was establishing a critique of history. If you say "true" and "history" together -- well, no historian's ever going to call anything "true history," so it's not a professional word. Secondly, it calls into question the whole nature of history, which is a series of stories. So the title is meant to do a little of that, which sometimes people get and sometimes people don't get. Particularly for newspaper journalists, they want to worry about the responsibility of the writer in distorting the history of something.

I've had lots of interesting conversations about this. I did take this issue quite seriously. In the case of this story, there are people still alive in that area that for him is family. So I have a sense of responsibility. Also, I started to think about Richard III, say, and Shakespeare and history. What we know about Richard III comes from Shakespeare, not history. Our obligation to tell the stories of our tribe or the myths of our people is a serious one.

B&N.com: You begin the book with a quote from William Faulkner. And in reading True History, I couldn't help but think of Faulkner and his sprawling prose and his great novels of the South. What debt does the book owe to Faulkner, if any?

PC: I have to give you a rambling answer. Of all the books I read when I started to read -- and I started to read a little later than most people, at 19, say, rather than 16 -- As I Lay Dying was one of the first works in terms of serious literature, and I couldn't have imagined that words like that might exist in the world, sentences like that. It thrilled me. And there are a whole lot of things about that book that continue to affect me; the formal organization of the work and the first-person narratives with conflicting points of view were burned into me, and my own work echoes that in some way. There's a debt I owe to Faulkner for that.

The other thing I think I emotionally connected with was the notion of giving voice to the voiceless. Here are these people, these poor ignorants, and they've got a beautiful poetry within them. When I look at what I've tried to do with this book, I can draw a line to Faulkner in the sense of the notion of creating a poetry. Not like Faulkner's poetry, but a sort of poetry from this uneducated man that is deeply satisfying and has a lot to do with Faulkner. The thing that struck me when I first read Ned Kelly's own writing is related more to Beckett and to Joyce. Yet of course, this book is really not like any of those people, they're just points of sparks, points of connection.

B&N.com: Ned Kelly educates himself by reading a copy of Lorna Doone given to him by his friend and gang member Joe Byrne. Are the two novels in any way parallel tales?

PC: Not too much. It is a romance. But the point is that I didn't invent this; it was Ned Kelly's favorite book. There are points of connection. I mean, it's nice that he read a book, and it's nice that I know what the book was. It isn't a parallel. It's interesting to read Lorna Doone imagining how he might have felt at different stages, because the Doones, who are the outlaws, are bastards. They're more like aristocratic versions of Ned's vile Quinn uncles who were so rotten to him. Writing a book, one's always looking for what one can use. It was all about me, looking for what I could steal, loot, use. The only bit I found I could use was the book. Lorna Doone is what we would think of these days as a middle-brow book, and it's a romance of it's time. The writing about the natural world is particularly fantastic.

B&N.com: You mentioned Shakespeare earlier. We often hear just how many people would attend his plays, rich or poor, and that whatever language is difficult for us to grasp today was for his own audience very accessible. In that wonderful scene at the end of True History in which the teacher recites the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V, the people listening just intuitively get the emotion. They don't necessarily understand the context, but they understand what it is essentially about.

PC: My wife is in theater and knows Shakespeare really well, and she sits around with actors and directors, and they know this play and that play. Actually, I don't have an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare's work. I know quite a bit of it and have seen it a lot, but that particular scene is one I learned in school and I've always loved it very much, so it came to me from my baggage.

B&N.com: What struck me when I first read the publisher's copy on the book was that the folks at Knopf are calling it "a Great American Novel." Do you have any sense of how differently Americans have responded to the book than Australians?

PC: It's a whole different thing. I take that as a huge compliment. Obviously my publisher is going to try and sell the book, but when I was writing the book, it seemed to me very Australian. Ned Kelly, all of the animals, the landscapes, the colloquialisms are Australian; they're not necessarily going to have any significance to Americans.

I've published a lot of books in this country, and I don't expect that my cultural experience is central to American life, and as far I'm concerned I'm sort of going out on a limb. Generally, artistically, it's a difficult thing to do. When I finished it I was really surprised and delighted to find, time and time again, Americans really connecting with it in a way that I'd not expected. And I'd say to my friends, isn't it weird. And they'd say, "No, it feels like a western," or "it feels like Mark Twain." It's disconcerting, because you're going through all this and suddenly you find some reference to the queen of England, and that really shakes you up, because somehow or other you're inhabiting some 19th-century American landscape and then this happens.

Of course, when you read across cultures, there are always degrees of understanding and misunderstanding that occur continually. It happens when I read García Márquez and when you read Garcí Márquez, or anybody from another place. We understand it in terms of ourselves, and that's what's happening here. A western, the notion of a western; there is no equivalent of a western in Australia. In Australia there really isn't a frontier. A frontier suggests, to me anyway, this moving, like one of those bands on the weather map that moves across, and you triumph at the end, and there's wealth and success. And in Australia, because of its particular landscape, there can be no triumph and success and wealth, because at the end of the journey there will probably be death and everyone will die of starvation and thirst, which is not a frontier sort of idea. Maybe I'm wrong.

B&N.com: It was a tremendous revelation for me to hear you read from the work yourself, because, as you said, when I first approached the book, all I could hear in my own mind was this southern drawl, and it worked. But it did change things to hear you read it with an Australian accent. And I also kept reminding myself that the characters were Irish as well, so that it wasn't an Australian accent they used, but a brogue.

PC: It's weird. You know the actor Richard E. Grant? Well, I was out there in Australia for the book party and to do publicity, and he's a friend of a friend, and I'd never met him, but he turned up. He said that he had sat in his room reading it with an Irish accent, which presumably he knows how to do. And he said it totally worked. I don't know how I wrote it. I wrote it in my mind mostly in an Australian/Irish way, sometimes being aware of my limitations. I'm pleased that Richard E. Grant said that, but I couldn't have gone the full nine yards on the Irishness; it's not within my range. And probably the character Harry Power, for instance, should have been more Irish than I was able to make him. But on the other hand I grew up in a culture very influenced by all of that. So I thought that what I was doing was OK and that it was heavily Irish-influenced. But I know what you mean about reading it in one way and hearing it another. Australians do that all the time. You read things from another place, and then you hear the person from the place read it in their way and then suddenly it all makes sense.

B&N.com: Czeslaw Milosz has a wonderful quote somewhere about language being our only homeland. Did you write True History of the Kelly Gang here or in Australia, and how strongly does a sense of place affect when you are writing?

PC: Oh, I wrote it here, in New York City. It was a wonderful thing to do. One is afflicted in many ways. I love New York City, by the way. On the other hand, I also have feelings of homesickness, and anxiety, too, about if an artist should be in his or her own place.

B&N.com: You think you'll ever write a New York novel?

I don't think so. Maybe in the future. One of the things this book has made me realize is that there's a lot of deep soil there that I really need to continue to work with. It was a big pleasure to get into that and to feel so confident in the voice. I'm not suggesting that I'm confident with writing the book. I was often filled with a sense of terror and anxiety and being certain I was going to fail, but there was a thing about the voice that I felt very confident about.

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Reading Group Guide

1. In Australia, Ned Kelly is so revered as a national icon that his image was placed on center stage during the opening ceremonies of the Summer 2000 Olympic Games. Though his legacy is still controversial and some regard him as a criminal and murderer, he is widely seen as a champion of the oppressed and a forerunner of Australian nationalism. What aspects of Kelly's character and actions might be responsible for his heroic status? What heroic feats does he accomplish in the novel? In what ways does the novel present a realistic rather than mythic or romanticized portrait of the man?

2. True History of the Kelly Gang is fiction, yet most of the characters in the novel existed as real people and many of the events are based on historical fact. What complications arise from using fiction to tell the truth? Can a factually based imaginative reconstruction present a truer or more accurate account of people than straightforward nonfiction can? What distinctive pleasures does the historical novel afford?

3. Ned Kelly begins by writing that his history "will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false" [p. 7], and much in his narration is concerned with setting the record straight. Is Kelly a reliable narrator? Why should his history be more "true" than other versions of these events? What aspects of Kelly's voice and character convey a feeling of authenticity?

4. Why does Ned Kelly address his history to his daughter? What effect does he hope it will have on her? What are his motives for writing?

5. Throughout the novel, Ned Kelly represents himself as a person who was pushed into the life of an outlaw by forces beyondhis control. "What choice did I have?" he asks, when he kills Strahan at Stringybark Creek. "This were the ripe fruit of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick" [p. 250]. What are the forces, individual and political, that influence his fate? In what ways is Fitzpatrick responsible for this killing?

6. What effect does Harry Power have on the young Ned Kelly? What does Ned learn from him? In what ways does Ned define himself against Harry Power?

7. Looking back on the moment that Harry Power told him that he had killed Bill Frost, Ned thinks: "Now it is many years later I feel great pity for the boy who so readily believed this barefaced lie I stand above him and gaze down like the dead look down from Heaven" [p. 123]. At what other points in the novel is Ned betrayed by the dishonesty of others? What does his willingness to trust suggest about his character? Why would he liken this recollection to the dead looking down from Heaven?

8. How are the Irish in general, and the Kelly family in particular, regarded by the English in Australia? What methods do the police use to intimidate and control them? In what ways can the novel be read as an indictment of English colonialism?

9. When Tom Lloyd is arrested for the shooting of Bill Frost, Ned returns because, as he tells his mother, "I can't let Tom do my time" [p.140]. By what ethical code does Ned live? Where else does he refuse to violate this personal code of honor? How do his own ethics contrast with those of the police, squatters, and judges who are arrayed against him? What are the consequences of Kelly's strict adherence to his code?

10. What do Ned's relationships with Joe Byrne, his mother, his brother Dan, his wife Mary, and their child reveal about the kind of man he is? Why is it impossible for him to flee with Mary to America? How has his relationship with his father--and his father's history--shaped him?

11. Ned Kelly claims that his gang had "showed the world what convict blood could do. We proved there were no taint we was of true bone blood and beauty born" [p. 337]. To what extent is Ned Kelly aware of himself as an actor on the historical stage? To what extent should he be regarded as a revolutionary? What events lead to his growing political consciousness?

12. Though possessing little formal education, Ned Kelly was in fact a remarkable writer, as evidenced by the 1879 Jerilderie letter, which Kelly dictated to Joe Byrne and which survives today. What aspects of Kelly's writing, as Carey represents it, seem most distinctive? How is his writing regarded by others in the novel? What does he hope his writing--in the letter to Mr. Cameron and in the pamphlet he tries to publish--will accomplish? In what ways does Peter Carey's novel fulfill this hope?

13. True History of the Kelly Gang is preceded by an epigraph from William Faulkner: "The past is not dead. It is not even past." How does this quote illuminate what happens in the novel? In what sense do both English colonial history and Ned Kelly's personal past affect the events in the novel? What does this epigraph, and the novel itself, imply about similar contemporary conflicts in Ireland and elsewhere?

14. After his capture in 1880, Ned Kelly said, "If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away." In what ways does Kelly's life, as it is presented in True History of the Kelly Gang, serve as a warning about the consequences of injustice and persecution?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2005

    Audio reading of book is excellent.

    Ned Kelley and his gang are a powerful myth in Australia. In the 1870s Ned Kelley an Irish youth reluctantly takes up a life of crime and becomes in effect a huge media story. A Robin Hood type character. He finds himself in the middle of the culture clash and resentments caused by the cruel and discriminatory English rulers Vs the downtrodden Irish bush farmers. In a country that was founded by convicts one wonders why Kelley takes on such a mythic statue. This book, a novel, goes a long ways to offer up motive for Kelley in Australia¿s ruthless history of class warfare. Carey has taken a 50 page letter written by the real Kelley with it¿s long run on sentences, no commas, change of subject mid sentence and incorporated this style into his fictional Kelley¿s voice. The book's structure is the discovery of many other parcels of text written (Chapters) all written in the first person by our fictional Kelley, all in this fast paced run on style without punctuation. A few years ago I tried to read the book and just found it¿s lack of punctuation to difficult to keep up with. I¿m not a patient enough reader to take on the reading text written in this fashion. I put the book down in frustration. Then recently I discovered, in the Library, a fully unabridged audio version on CDs. I listened to the first 200 pages on a recent round trip drive to Las Vegas. The reader, Gianfranco Negroponte does a marvelous job of reading, inserting the commas; the dialog comes alive with his performance, as does Ned Kelley¿s voice. The reading has the feel your sitting around the campfire hearing a tall tale told by the practitioner. I finished listening to the tapes while following along with the book's text and some sections I just read without the audio. But it was the audio translation I am reviewing here and recommending to you. A marvelous way to enjoy what I found to be an awkward book to read. The recording also has an interesting hour-long interview with Peter Carey on the last CD, well worth a listen as he explains why he structured the book the way he did, and how much of the story he fictionalized (quite a bit actually).

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    what a storyteller

    Peter Carey will win a pulitzer in the next 10 years. The man can weave a tale and his character development and understanding of humanity is almost hemingwayesque.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2009

    A person to remember is Ned Kelly

    Ned Kelly starts off as any one would think a kid would. Young, reckless, and free to do what he wishes in life. In the beginning, he tells you what is happening, but he is speaking to his daughter. Each letter held a part of his life and how it was hard for him and his family to live. It seems in the story, troubled and Ned go together just like a puzzle. He tries to be like a man, even after his father¿s death. With each letter, you travel deeper into his mind and life, until the end. <BR/> <BR/> I was rather pleased with this story. It kept me on my guard when you would not think possible. You never knew if he was lying, even if he said he would not lie in the beginning of the novel. I had a little troubled reading the story, for Ned has ¿troubled¿ with his grammar. The word year was shortened to yr. and other words seemed to form to his speak he spoke. I do recommended this book to other that enjoy a blast from the past and maybe you might find some dirt on the bottom of your shoes from the story its self, for that¿s how far into the book I felt.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2001

    Universal Legend

    As a long-time student of Ned Kelly as historical personage, it was with great trepidation that I read this book; knowing how historical novels hardly ever grasp the 'meaning' of a person or an event. All to often they seem to add invented dialouge to a well-known story and HOPE to capitalize on the actual story to carry the book thru. Here we have what a historical novel SHOULD be. As Kelly appeared thru the morning mist that June day in 1880 to battle the police, so he has risen up again and again to lumber thru the consciousness of whoever has the good fortune to stumble onto his tale, for, right or wrong, he's IS a powerful tale. But it is the concept behind this novel that really struck me as unique. Here was Kelly the son, the man, the lover, and the outlaw, and yet the 'meaning' comes down to Kelly the father. And it is here that, as a divocred father seperated from MY kids, the real power and tragedy of Carey's novel strikes home: the desire of people, regardless of gender or social status and standing, to have our voices heard and our tale told. Here, for once, in this wonderfully imagined way, IS (to use a cliche) 'The man behind the myth.' What is so wonderful is that Kelly has survived as a historical character, and he has appeared as subject for fine art (The Nolan paintings), as cinematic subject matter numerous times, and, now, as a subject that has long deserved and finally received his worthy status as subject fit for fine literature. Bravo to Peter Carey for slipping into Kelly's armor

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent historical fiction

    Though over a century has passed since the Australian authorities hanged him, Ned Kelly retains a mythical hold on the minds of individuals who romanticize a criminal with an honorable moral fiber. In 1879-1880, Kelly and his cohorts elude the police for about twenty months, desperately doing daring deeds that capture the soul of a nation. Yet in the end he fails to achieve his goal of winning the approval of his mother, but Ellen betrayed her family and Ned whenever it was convenient. <P> This is an exciting biographical fiction that brings to life a country and its people in the late nineteenth century. Although one-sided by turning Kelly into a glamorous heroic victim of society and his family, he retains all the allure that makes him an epic hero. The story line is well written and grips the reader from start to finish with the action adventure of a Zane Gray western tale. Award winning Peter Carey shows why he is one of the best authors with this uncanny novel that brings forth a legendary man. <P>Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Here is the story of Ned Kelly, as told in his own words. Or at

    Here is the story of Ned Kelly, as told in his own words. Or at least that is the novel's conceit. In True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey channels Australia's most famous outlaw, relating his tale in powerfully rich, though semi-literate prose. Anyone who's familiar with Ned Kelly's legend (don't worry, you don't need to know anything about Ned Kelly to enjoy the novel) will expect this book to be largely about the so-called Kelly Outbreak, but that is not the case. In fact we don't reach the Kelly Outbreak until about 2/3 of the way through the novel. Instead we are treated mostly to Kelly's early years, his family's struggles to eke out an existence, and all the injustices which would make Kelly the man he later became. Toward the end of the book a character asks if Australians have no one better to look up to than a horse thief. Accurate account or not this novel vividly describes why we tend to romanticize murderers and thieves like Ned Kelly or Billy the Kid; why even in their own time outlaws like these were seen by many of the common people as heroes rather than villains. Whatever their motivations for doing so they stood up against the agents of injustice; the police and magistrates who applied the law however they saw fit, the rich landowners and bankers who took whatever they wanted without fear of reprisal. All Ned Kelly ever wanted was for his voice to be heard, but no one was willing to listen. I've seen some complaints about the prose in this book, and that baffles me a bit. As I said earlier this novel is written in Kelly's own voice, complete with all the run on sentences and errors in grammar you might expect from an uneducated man in the late 19th century. While I admit that the prose takes some getting used to (after 5 or 6 pages you should have little problem with it), it's really the prose which elevates this novel to something more than just another retelling of the Kelly legend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2002

    Unexpectadly entertaining and poignant

    I had never heard of Ned Kelly before Peter Carey's book. But, from the very first line, Ned Kelly comes vividly to life. And, though it seems so far removed from the comfort most of us have today, it's fascinating and real. What he's striving for, acceptance, a better life, love, family ties, something to leave behind after, are all universal. His language, especially, is so entertaining, I would recommend this book just on that. I loved it.

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