Novel Suggestions Rotating Header Image

Illywhacker by Peter Carey

Illywhacker by Peter CareyPeter Carey has been a favourite author of mine since I first read Illywhacker more years ago than I care to remember. Some people just don’t get Illywhacker and seem to prefer Carey’s other early novels such as Oscar and Lucinda, and whilst I have to agree that it is at times a very strange book, I have always found it magical. My old copy is terminally worn out from being re-read and loaned out to friends, which has got to be a testament to a fine book in my view!

Read on for a full review….

-- Illywhacker by Peter Carey a Review by Des Greene
The illywhacker, or confidence trickster, of the book’s title is one Herbert Badgery who claims to be 139 years old. This, like so many other things in the book, you can choose to believe or not as you wish, but it is one of my underlying fascinations about Illywhacker, you can never quite take it on face value.

“I am a terrible liar and I have always been a liar. I say that early to set things straight. Caveat Emptor. My age is the one thing you can rely on….”

Badgery’s career as a reptile catcher, car salesman and aviator is set against a backdrop of the Australian state of Victoria, and the story visits Geelong, Melbourne and surrounding outback towns. As it meanders along (and 139 years takes a lot of telling so don’t expect too much haste), it takes in Herbert Badgery’s loves, marriages, misfortunes and endless schemes, before moving on to relate those of his son Charles and his family. Finally,  returning to his protracted old age, we are even left to wonder how much of the story we have just read has been stolen by the Illwhacker and presented as his own work.

Almost all the characters encountered are richly built out, well developed and detailed, and the Australian language and landscape really come alive in the reading. But always, the nagging question remains – which bits are true and which bits fabrication? You have to wonder if even Badgery himself knows. In life, characters such as his often delude themselves as much as their victims, so I find he elicits sympathy rather than dislike, despite unquestionably being a rogue.

Some critics consider that Illywhacker has certain minor flaws in the way the plot of the book works towards the end, but if this is the case, it is easy to forgive when considering Carey’s overall achievement with Illywhacker. Another criticism is his noticeable repetition of certain words, which in a book as long as this, is probably more attributable to poor proof reading than a fault of the author.

People seem to be equally divided as to whether Illywhacker is a miss or a masterpiece. I’m firmly in the latter camp, and Illywhacker remains one of my all time favourite novels even after 25 years.

Already read Illywhacker? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

Novel Suggestions only provides fiction book reviews of books that we personally recommend. We don’t spend our valuable time writing reviews of books which we feel would be a waste of your valuable time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *