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My Life as a Fake Hardcover – October 28, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414983
  • ISBN-13: 978-1740512466
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,598,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake is a literate mystery of forgeries and doppelgangers with a fictional manuscript at its heart. The mystery--the origin of a brilliant but purportedly faked poem--fuels a whirlwind pursuit through Australia and across the wilds of Malaysia. Grappling with her own childhood demons, Carey's bibliophile sleuth, Sarah Wode-Douglass, sometimes becomes lost in the exotic and bloody chase.

The novel opens as Sarah, the reluctant tourist and editor of The Modern Review, is dragged by a foppish poet-friend, John Slater, to Kuala Lumpur. Sarah is intent on biding her time in her hotel, but a chance encounter with a scabrous reader of Rilke soon transforms Sarah's plans and, ultimately, her life. The reader, the Australian poet Christopher Chubb, is the disgraced initiator of a great literary hoax--the faked poems of the non-existent Bob McCorkle. The McCorkle hoax was Chubb's attempt to bring down a rising poetry editor, David Weiss. When the hoax was exposed, Weiss was believed to have committed suicide. But, living in exile, Chubb has hidden a secret for decades: Bob McCorkle had seemingly materialized in human form, killing Weiss and destroying Chubb's life. Sarah is tantalized by a fragment of supposed McCorkle poetry that Chubb has shared with her. Whether it is a fake or the work of a madman, Sarah believes it is genius. Her obsession, however, drives her and Chubb to the precipice of self-destruction.

The primary story--Chubb's pursuit of McCorkle--lives in the fictional past, and the plot occasionally becomes muddled in the nest of narrators recalling conversations second or third hand. In playing out the McCorkle affair, Carey’s denouement comes too quickly. If Sarah is transformed, Carey doesn't reveal enough of her in the text. He is mesmerized, as is the reader, by Chubb's horrific tale.

With its small shortcomings, the novel offers a sophisticated interrogation of authorship and fakery and the power of art. Carey avoids simplifying the McCorkle mystery, leaving the reader to puzzle out McCorkle's bizarre incarnation. While My Life as a Fake is frequently entertaining, the atmospheric mystery occasionally glimpses the profound. --Patrick O'Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

Carey, who won the Man Booker Prize for his True History of the Kelly Gang, takes another strange but much less well-known episode in Australian history as the basis for this hypnotic novel of personal and artistic obsession. He tells it through the eyes of Lady Sarah Wode-Douglass, editor of a struggling but prestigious London poetry journal, who one day in the early 1970s finds herself accompanying an old family friend, poet and novelist John Slater, out to Malaysia. There they encounter an eccentric Australian expatriate, Christopher Chubb, who concocted, Slater says, a huge literary hoax in Australia just after the war, creating an imaginary genius poet, Bob McCorkle, whose publication by a little magazine led to the suicide of the magazine's editor. Now Chubb offers Lady Sarah a page of poetry that shows undoubted genius and claims it is from a book in his possession. Lady Sarah's every acquisitive instinct is inflamed, but to get her hands on the book she has to listen, as Chubb inflicts on her, Ancient Mariner-like, the amazing story of his own epic struggle with McCorkle. In the end, the vaunted manuscript is revealed to be in the care of Chubb's fierce daughter (long ago kidnapped and raised by McCorkle) and a deranged Chinese woman. To what lengths will Lady Sarah go to get it, and how will the women keep it from her? The tale is a tour de force, with a positively Graham Greene-ish relish in the seamy side of the tropics, a mix of literary detective story and murderous nightmare that is piquantly hair-raising. And just when it seems that Carey's story is his greatest fantastic creation to date, he lets on that the hoax at the heart of it actually took place in Melbourne in 1946. As so often before, this extravagantly gifted writer has created something bewilderingly original and powerful.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

There is very little to keep you reading to the end of the novel.
C. Ellis
A beautifully crafted piece of storytelling, a powerful work of fiction, Mr Carey's narrative is fast, furious and haunting.
As the story progresses it becomes confusing who exactly is narrating the story.
Eric Anderson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Eric Anderson on November 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Following from Carey's hugely successful True History of the Kelly Gang, the author plucks another charismatic figure from history to reform in his fiction. This time he has taken the Ern Malley hoax and rewritten it using a bounty of sumptuous detail. In the 1940s a couple of writers sought to play a joke on the surrealist movement of the time. Their hoax got out of hand. They composed poetry using a mixture of their own original work, Shakespeare, a rhyming dictionary and a US army report. However, it was taken seriously, published and then caused a scandal because the content of the work was considered indecent. In many ways the editor who first received the work considered that the fake poet really did come to life. Stemming from this thought, Carey creates the story of Christopher Chubb who similarly sets up a literary hoax. This time, the fictional poet really does come to life.
The narrator of My Life is a Fake is the English poetry editor Sarah Wode-Douglass. She travels to Kuala Lumpur on the invitation of her acquaintance, the poet John Slater, with whom she has a long and complicated past. By accident she meets Chubb who is working in a bicycle repair shop. He gives her a glimpse of a poem by the poet he created named McCorkle. Sarah is desperate to retrieve this poet's work to make her own claim to fame. However, first she must hear the whole gruesome story behind it. It is a complicated affair leading Sarah and the reader to wonder what is real and what is fake. McCorkle comes to life and discredits Chubb's own life. Not only is Chubb's past revealed, but through conversations Slater Sarah's own past is examined. Another fake is revealed.
Carey does a magnificent job at evoking the environment of Kuala Lumpur in this time period.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on May 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Sarah Elizabeth Jane is an editor with "The Modern Review". When her friend the novelist John Slater suggests that she joins him on a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Sarah does not know the maze she is about to enter, "from which, thirteen years later, I haven't yet escaped" as she puts it. Shortly after their arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Sarah makes the acquaintance of an Australian in a shabby bicycle repair shop in Jalan Campbell, a man called Christopher Chubb. She soon finds out that he is the villain in the McCorkle Hoax dating back to 1946. Chubb gave birth to a phantom poet called "Bob McCorkle" who never existed but whom the Australian gave a life, a death and a biography. He then delivered a collection of poems called "Personae" to editor David Weiss, a man profoundly detested by Chubb since their common schooldays at Forest Street. Sarah is speechless as Chubb mockingly recites a passage from a poem called "Swamps": "Areas of stagnant water serve / As breeding grounds...", a passage Chubb had copied from an army manual of mosquito eradication! When Weiss published "Personae", he was arrested and prosecuted for "obscenity". As Sarah listens to the beginning of Chubb's account of his life, she is drawn into his harrowing narration. Chubb has a kind of magnetic effect on her and she can't resist wanting to learn more about Chubb's past, a maze of events on the verge of credibility. A beautifully crafted piece of storytelling, a powerful work of fiction, Mr Carey's narrative is fast, furious and haunting.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Carey spins quite a yarn here. Sarah Wode-Douglas, the editor of a poetry magazine in London, travels to Malaysia with one John Slater a writer a little like Truman Capote without the mincing-- that is, he is more famous for being a famous writer than for writing--a man she thinks had an affair with her mother and is responsible for her death. There they meet a Christopher Chubb, an aging Australian. Chubb tells a story that has shades of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Joseph's HEART OF DARKNESS, Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and is as convoluted as The DA VINCI CODE.
Central to the story is a literary hoax based on an incident that actually took place in Australia, according to the Author's Note at the end of this fairly short novel. (266 pages)You may not care a whit about poetry, pretentious intellectuals or literary hoaxes; on the other hand, you will race through this novel with the speed you read any first rate mystery. I had no abiding love for any of these characters but was fascinated by this great tale.
Mr. Carey is nothing is not a master of the language, should I say Australian. There are nice Australian touches: "he said he would give me a hiding if I did not get off his irises straight away" and "I therefore was forced to take shank's pony to the city but I am used to walking. . ."
Surely Carey is saying something about literary criticism, which can be one of the world's most pretentious endeavors. There is the question of what is real and what isn't and how significant is poetry after all? Sarah, the first person narrator, opines that there is no value that can be put on fine poetry: ". . . but what price would I put on a Shakespeare sonnet? How much for Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Yeats?" W. H.
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