The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

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Overview

From a writer whom Thomas Keneally calls "one of the great figures on the cusp of the millennium" comes a novel that conjures an entire world that suggests our own, but tilted on its axis—a world whose most powerful country, Voorstand, dominates its neighbors with ruthless espionage and its mesmerizing but soul-destroying Sirkus.

Into that world comes Tristan Smith, a malformed, heroically willful, and unforgivingly observant child. Tristan's life includes adventure and loss, ...

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The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

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Overview

From a writer whom Thomas Keneally calls "one of the great figures on the cusp of the millennium" comes a novel that conjures an entire world that suggests our own, but tilted on its axis—a world whose most powerful country, Voorstand, dominates its neighbors with ruthless espionage and its mesmerizing but soul-destroying Sirkus.

Into that world comes Tristan Smith, a malformed, heroically willful, and unforgivingly observant child. Tristan's life includes adventure and loss, political intrigue, and a bizarre stardom in the Voorstand Sirkus, where animals talk and human performers die real deaths. The result is a visionary picaresque, staggering in its inventions, spellbinding in its suspense, and unabashedly moving.

The Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and The Tax Inspector now gives readers a hero, the malformed but ferociously wilful Tristan Smith, who becomes the object of the world's byzantine political intrigues, even as he attains stardom in a bizarre Sirkus that is part passion play and part Mortal Kombat.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Irresistible...intimate and theatrical...supple and surprising.... We're in the hands of a master storyteller." —Carol Shields, author of The Stone Diaries

"Carey has vaulted to the top ranks of writers in the English-speaking world.... Tristan has an appeal that transcends geography." —Newsday

"Carey's always magical, absolutely lovable narrative voice makes The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith an important contribution to contemporary fiction.... No matter what he decides to write or how he decides to write it, it's a priviledge to read him." —Carolyn See, Washington Post Book World

"Savage and hilarious...dazzling." —The New York Review of Books

Carol Shields
This serious novel is full of incidental pleasures, little side trips into arcane avenues like pigeon fancying, theories of acting, the mystery of masks and disguises, all brought forward with authority and with what is clearly Mr. Carey's own delight in authentic detail...."The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith" is laid out with a tough, spare, considered language, and Mr. Carey knows when and how to put a torque on a sentence so that it strikes precisely at all that is fake or fatuous. His chapter endings and beginnings bite down on each other like sets of teeth, giving dramatic energy to the page and a discordant, but oddly pleasing, music to the ear. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Australian novelist Carey presents an extravagantly picaresque tale of a vaguely futuristic and very bizarre world. Feb.
Library Journal
Carey creates a fully realized parallel universe in this unusual novel set in Efica, an island nation under the political and cultural domination of the larger Voorstand. Part Bildungsroman, part political allegory, and part meditation on identity, this novel traces the first 23 years of Tristan, its eponymous narrator, a hideously deformed dwarf and son of actress Felicity Smith the head of a radical theater company and champion of Efican culture. In the novel's first half, Tristan tells of his early adventures with the company, culminating with Felicity's fatal foray into politics. In the second, he recounts his later travels in Voorstand in search of Bill Millefleur, an actor he believes to be his father. This inventive, multilayered work should only add to Carey's already considerable reputation. Highly recommended.-Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Carolyn See
"Carey's always magical, absolutely lovable narrative voice makes 'The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith' an important contribution to contemporary fiction....No matter what he decides to write or how he decides to write it, it's a privilege to read him." -- Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679760368
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Carey is the author of seven novels including the Booker Prize-winning Oscar and Lucinda. He has also written a book of short stories (The Fat Man in History) and a children’s book (The Big Bazoohley). Born in Australia in 1943, he has lived in New York City for ten years, with his wife and their two sons.

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:

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