I have read three other Peter Carey novels. the first one I read was not Oscar and Lucinda, but the much later True History of the Kelly Gang. Since then I’ve read My Life as a Fake and Theft and, whilst I enjoyed both, neither has matched the extraordinary achievement of The Kelly Gang – for me at least. That is until this one which has run it a pretty close second. It is one of those books that is modest in its word length but ambitious in its storytelling.
Carey is an exceptional writer and his key strength is his ability to write in convincing multiple voices. He is (rather like Ian McEwan) a very poetic writer, yet he also has the ability to simultaneously write in the voice of a central character (in this case an eight year-old boy), often in a very idionmatic style, so you are reading two voices at once. The story – and Carey is very strong on ‘story’ – is written in the third person, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was written in the first, from the perspective of the boy.
In a way Carey’s unique style is summed up in the title of this extraordinary book. The juxtaposition of ‘His’ and ‘Self’ gives us a sense that this is a book that is written in the third person through the voice of a single individual. It is additionally extraordinary because of the two voices here, one is an adult and one is that of a child, yet the prose remains seamless.