This idea, this truththat a child in distress is hard-wired to seek protection from a woman, any woman, whatever her failings, her confusions, her ideologyis the heartbeat that races through Peter Carey's enthralling new novel, His Illegal Self, a book as psychologically taut as a Patricia Highsmith thriller and as starkly beautiful as Mulisch's [The Assault]…This novel marks a departurean altogether successful onefor the versatile author, who usually paints gorgeous whorls of story around outlandish figures from the untouchable past, real or imagined: gamblers and dreamers, circus freaks, outlaws, prodigals and passionate eccentrics. Here, the world he inhabitsthe protest movement of the '60s and '70sis both familiar and recent.
The New York Times
His Illegal Self is front-loaded with shocks and twists that gradually fade into a contemplative tale of disrupted lives. Like two of his previous novels, My Life as a Fake (2003) and Theft (2006), this one is about acts of deception between charactersand between Carey and his readers. But whereas those earlier novels boasted clever tricks, His Illegal Self develops the kind of emotional impact that renders it even more enriching and satisfying…Carey's startling, kaleidoscopic plots are now so well known that we can't help overanticipating them, but he's still the master, still capable of staying two steps ahead of us. And in His Illegal Self the most surprising maneuver of all isn't so much a sudden revelation but his tender portrayal of the desperate love between this accidental mother and a little boy who she knows deserves better.
The Washington Post
A psychologically astute and diabolically suspenseful novel . . . Carey has a gift for bringing to creepy-crawly and blistering life Australia’s jungle and desert wilds. His latest spectacularly involving and supremely well made novel of life on the edge begins in New York [and] ends up in Australia . . . Carey’s unique take on the conflict between the need to belong and the dream of freedom during the days of rage over the Vietnam War is at once terrifying and mythic. PLACE CODE AT END OF TEXT
Adult/High School- It is 1972 and seven-year-old Che Selkirk, the son of radical parents he has never met, lives in isolated privilege with his well-to-do grandmother. Denied access to television and the news, he picks up scraps of information about his outlaw mother and father from a teenage neighbor who assures Che that his parents will come and "break you out of here." When a woman named Dial arrives at the boy's Park Avenue apartment to take him on a day excursion, he assumes that she is his mother. Unfortunately, things go terribly awry and Che becomes a fugitive himself. He and Dial end up in the Australian bush in an inhospitable commune. Carey uses a stream-of-consciousness style that poignantly communicates Che's confusion about his life on the lam and what he really wants. The explosive conclusion is worth the wait as the author vividly portrays the hardscrabble, primitive life of a group of hippies in his native Australia. Young adults will appreciate His Illegal Self for its main character-an orphan by circumstance-who struggles to understand his predicament and ultimately gains not only wisdom, but also the love he has sought.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
This isn't the first fictional work to explore the militant radical underground of the late 1960s and early '70s, but it may well be the best. What freshens the familiar material is the child's-eye perspective with which Carey begins the story. Impressions and chronology take time to coalesce, as seven-year-old Che (called "Jay" by the patrician grandmother who has raised him) has little idea what is happening to him or why. Take the title as irony, because Che is the embodiment of innocence, with his only possible guilt by association. Most of what Che knows about his parents he has learned from his babysitter, who has promised him that he will be liberated: "They will break you out, man. Your life will start for real." Both his mother and his father, neither of whom he knows, are notorious underground militants, and Che himself has some sort of fame from a photo taken of him as a baby with his mother at a demonstration. One afternoon, the babysitter's prophecy appears to come true, as a woman whom Che believes to be his mother visits and flees with him. Whatever the relation between the two, a bond develops between Che and the captor/rescuer he has been told to call "Dial." As the novel's perspective shifts between the two characters, it appears that Dial has little more idea than Che what is going on. She has risked her career as a fledgling professor at Vassar to take the boy, and whatever relation she has with him, she has a history with the boy's father. The action quickly shifts from New York-where Che's grandmother lives, as does the novelist-to Australia, where Carey was born and raised and where revelation awaits for both the characters and the reader. Carey's mastery of toneand command of point of view are very much in evidence in his latest novel (My Life as a Fake, 2004, etc.), which is less concerned with period-piece politics than with the essence of identity. First printing of 60,000
"Peter Carey is one of the great writers in English now. His Illegal Self is further proof, a book in which he's created a little boy who is neither too precious nor too wise, a little boy on a sad hard trip with his eyes wide open, watching everything and everyone around him. He makes you think of your own past life and all you felt when you were a kid being played upon and moved about by the adults of the world. This book is another triumph, among Carey's other wonderful books. The man can write. He seems capable of anything."
—Kent Haruf, author of Plainsongh and Eventide
"His Illegal Self by Peter Carey has the pace of a thriller but is beautifully styled. It is the late 1960s and Che is seven years old, dreaming of his radical activist parents coming back for him. A woman arrives in the New York home he shares with his grandmother and steals him away. He is willing to accept the adventure until it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem. With the action shifting to a commune in the Australian outback, Carey’s style is fantastically lively, making this a gorgeous as well as riveting read."
—Ruth Atkins, Booksellers’ Choice: February
"This isn't the first fictional work to explore the militant radical underground of the late 1960s and early '70s, but it may well be the best. What freshens the familiar material is the child's-eye perspective with which Carey begins the story. Impressions and chronology take time to coalesce, as seven-year-old Che (called "Jay" by the patrician grandmother who has raised him) has little idea what is happening to him or why. Take the title as irony, because Che is the embodiment of innocence, with his only possible guilt by association. [...] Carey's mastery of tone and command of point of view are very much in evidence in his latest novel which is less concerned with period-piece politics than with the essence of identity."
—Kirkus ( Starred Review)
"Two-time Booker Prize winner Carey has a thing for outlaws, whether he's writing about the famous folk hero Ned Kelly or schemers involved in a literary hoax or art crime. He also has a gift for bringing to creepy-crawly and blistering life Australia's jungle and desert wilds. His latest spectacularly involving and supremely well made novel of life on the edge begins in New York as Che, a boy of seven living with his rich, no-nonsense grandmother, takes off with a woman festooned with beads and bells. [...] For every lurch forward, Carey throws this psychologically astute and diabolically suspenseful novel in reverse to reveal the truth about Dial and her love for the boy. Carey's unique take on the conflict between the need to belong and the dream of freedom during the days of rage over the Vietnam War is at once terrifying and mythic."
—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Odd, syncopated, beautiful and emotionally compelling novel about the child of 60's radicals on the run ... fascinating and deeply compelling evocation of late 60's, early 70's period details in speech, atmosphere and irrational behavior, but at its core His Illegal Self is an ancient and magnificently eerie fairy tale about a child, wise beyond his years, stolen away to the forest, undergoing every kind of mortal trail, and surviving, in a surprising tale of luminous grace."