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True History of the Kelly Gang: A Novel Paperback – December 4, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"What is it about we Australians, eh?" demands a schoolteacher near the end of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. "Do we not have a Jefferson? A Disraeli? Might not we find someone better to admire than a horse-thief and a murderer?" It's the author's sole nod to the contradictory feelings Ned Kelly continues to evoke today, more than a century after his death. A psychopathic killer to some, a crusading folk hero to others, Kelly was a sharpshooting outlaw who eluded a brutal police manhunt for nearly two years. For better or worse, he's now a part of the Australian national myth. Indeed, the opening ceremonies for the Sydney Olympics featured an army of Ned Kellys dancing about to Irish music, which puts him in the symbolic company of both kangaroos and Olivia Newton-John.

What's to be gained from telling this illiterate bushranger's story yet again? Quite a lot, as it turns out. For starters, there is the remarkable vernacular poetry of Carey's narrative voice. Fierce, funny, ungrammatical, steeped in Irish legends and the frontier's moral code, this voice is the novel's great achievement--and perhaps the greatest in Carey's distinguished career. It paints a vivid picture of an Australia where English landowners skim off the country's best territory while government land grants allow the settlers just enough acreage to starve. Cheated, lied to, and persecuted by the authorities at every opportunity, young Kelly retains no faith in his colonial masters. What he does trust, oddly, is the power of words:

And here is the thing about them men they was Australians they knew full well the terror of the unyielding law the historic memory of UNFAIRNESS were in their blood and a man might be a bank clerk or an overseer he might never have been lagged for nothing but still he knew in his heart what it were to be forced to wear the white hood in prison he knew what it were to be lashed for looking a warder in the eye ... so the knowledge of unfairness were deep in his bone and in his marrow.
Ned Kelly as literary hero? Strangely enough, that's what he becomes, at least in Carey's rendering. Pouring his heart out in a series of letters to the country at large, Kelly wants nothing more than to be heard--and for the dirt-poor son of an Irish convict, that's an audacious ambition indeed. It's not so surprising, then, that his story continues to speak to Australians. Like all colonial countries, Australia was built at a steep human price, and the memory of all those silenced voices lives on. True History of the Kelly Gang takes its epigraph from Faulkner: "The past is not dead. It is not even past." And like Faulkner's own vast chronicle of dispossession, it's haunted by tragedies as large as history itself. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers 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. 75,000 first printing. (Jan. 16)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More from Peter Carey
Peter Carey has garnered critical and commercial praise for his ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear. Visit Amazon's Peter Carey Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375724672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Simon Kazianka (kazianka@gmx.at) on October 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever come across a myth named Ned Kelly? If yes, forget everything about all those folk tales and join the ignorant mob who are rushing to the bookstore to get a copy of Peter Carey's Commonwealth-and Booker prize winning novel "True History of the Kelly Gang".
In his seventh novel Peter Carey tells the historically-based story of Ned Kelly and his Irish-rooted fellow-outlaws, from their early days to their early deaths. In the case of this brilliant story, narrated in the first person, "tell", might be an inappropriate term because the voice Carey invent leads us to believe that Ned Kelly himself is the author of these highly vernacular lines. Poor grammar and minimal punctuation make the book hard to read to begin with, but once you have entered it you will never want to leave the colonial South of Australia. Using these unpromising language resources, Carey makes Ned write down his life-story for his daughter (whom he never meets) to justify and rectify all the crimes he is accused of.
But can this Ned Kelly really be accused of anything?
In 19th century Australia, where British landowners settle the best parts of the country and poor settlers nearly starve to death, Ned Kelly grows up in a poor Irish family. Carey gives us great insight into these harsh times when Ned is, from his childhood on, confronted with death, prison, betrayal and permanent unjust treatment at the hands of the police. The young horse thief Kelly grows into a bank robber, bandit, kidnapper and therefore the most wanted man in the whole colony. Yet, his sense of responsibility towards his family, his loyalty to his fellows and his never-ending struggle for justice make him a warm-hearted, loveable hero and ensure him a place in the hearts of Australians to this day.
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Format: Hardcover
After studying in Melbourne, Australia for about 4 years, I had fallen across texts and historical accounts on the famous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly. Most of the time, they were quite bland and very vague - what they stressed most was that Ned Kelly was someone who was a mystery, a folk tale.
Another book that has dealt with trying to get into the real character of Ned Kelly was Our Sunshine. I feel that "True History of the Kelly Gang" gives us a more in depth feel into one view of what the true Ned Kelly was like. The characters in the book comes alive and at times, you forget that this was not written by Carey but by Ned himself (which is what Carey wants the reader to do). The grammatical errors and the lack of punctuation did become confusing at times but, trust me, you get used to it and it also makes the story come alive and makes it very, very believable. It is almost like the new phase of Reality TV but better.
The book deals with all the events that Ned Kelly went through and Carey weaves all these events with Kelly's personal life and an example of what he might have felt during different stages of his life. The layout of the "project" is given to the reader in a package form from his younger days to his early death. It is extremely detailed and it is obvious that a lot of painstaking research was poured into the book and it is evident that Carey actually became the Ned that he was painting in his mind.
This is a book that has everything - murder, love, family, loyalty, betrayal, action and most of all, it is able to draw the reader into the situation to feel what all the characters are feeling.
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Format: Hardcover
History has always been written by the victors of wars, those adhering to the prevailing ideology of the day, or the survivors. In Peter Carey's new novel, the best this wonderful writer has yet produced, history gets told by Ned Kelly, the mythic Australian bush-ranger, who is none of those things. The result, Carey tells us, is a "true" history, told in the first-person voice of Kelly, a voice of Faulknerian sweep and rhythm written in a style based on real surviving letters in Kelly's own hand. And what a voice it is. Sentences run on, they lack punctuation or accurate grammar, they fold into themselves, or whip from emotion to emotion, subject to subject. Yet Carey is always in control of the sentence, using it to charm, inform,and manipulate.
The precise nature of Ned Kelly's lawlessness is central to Carey's book, for most of Kelly's crimes are seen as reactions against a cruel and unjust system being enacted against immigrants by the predominantly British system in Australia. For example, when Kelly is accused of stealing another horse, but when the case comes to trial the dates do not match up, the accused being out of the area when the theft was alleged to have taken place. The result of the trial is still a conviction. Kelly is found "guilty of receiving a horse not yet legally stolen." Finally, when Ned Kelly and his three companions are being hunted for the attempted murder of a policeman-something Kelly denies in his history-there is a shootout at Stringybark Creek resulting in the deaths of three constables. Kelly realizes that the only way to discourage the locals from turning them in is to pay them more than the reward money being offered by the authorities. After some audacious bank robberies to raise such funds the Kelly gang are cornered in Mrs.
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