I'll tell you up front that I liked this book better than Peter Carey's previous Booker Prize winner, Oscar and Lucinda, which I found frankly boring, as I did not find either character likable or compelling. However, I am relieved to report that I enjoyed True History of the Kelly Gang.
Ned Kelly is the Robin Hood of Australian folk history. An actual historical figure, Ned was the son of Irish immigrant parents who struggled to make their way in the colony. Ned recounts his childhood of poverty, with multiple siblings and a dad in jail, and later apprenticeship to a bushranger, or highway robber. Ned tries to go straight but finds this very difficult for a person of his class. Finally, the Kelly gang coalesces, out of necessity rather than anyone's intention.
The story is told in a style that I found off-putting at first: it is very similar to How Late It Was, How Late, by James Kelman, but True History is not exactly stream-of-consciousness. It is simply the product of a mostly self-educated immigrant, writing sentences with little punctuation. Even by the end of the book, I was having trouble finding where one sentence ended and the next began. This run-on narrative, presented as found parcels, like scrapbooks, is occasionally interrupted with news articles, comments by Ned's wife, and even a couple of pages torn from a collection of Shakespeare's plays. Of course, True History is not really true, but fictionalized.
I found the story and the characters compelling. I felt great sympathy for Ned, his family, and friends. I am glad to have met this Australian folk hero, and to have learned more about the plight of the Irish in early Australia.
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