His Illegal Self

His Illegal Self

by Peter Carey


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Seven-year-old Che Selkirk was raised in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother. The son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties, Che has grown up with the hope that one day his parents will come back for him. So when a woman arrives at his front door and whisks him away to the jungles of Queensland, he is confronted with the most important questions of his life: Who is his real mother? Did he know his real father? And if all he suspects is true, what should he do? In this artful tale of a young boy's journey, His Illegal Self lifts your spirit in the most unexpected way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307276490
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/10/2009
Series: Vintage International
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,101,952
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Peter Carey is the author of ten novels, and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and the
Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he now lives in New York City.

Date of Birth:

May 7, 1943

Place of Birth:

Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia


Monash University (no degree)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

There were no photographs of the boy's father in the house upstate. He had been persona non grata since Christmas 1964, six months before the boy was born. There were plenty of pictures of his mom. There she was with short blond hair, her eyes so white against her tan. And that was her also, with black hair, not even a sister to the blonde girl, although maybe they shared a kind of bright attention.

She was an actress like her grandma, it was said. She could change herself into anyone. The boy had no reason to disbelieve this, not having seen his mother since the age of two. She was the prodigal daughter, the damaged saint, like the icon that Grandpa once brought back from Athens—shining silver, musky incense—although no one had ever told the boy how his mother smelled.

Then, when the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway. No one had told him to expect it.

That was pretty typical of growing up with Grandma Selkirk. You were some kind of lovely insect, expected to know things through your feelers, by the kaleidoscope patterns in the others' eyes. No one would dream of saying, Here is your mother returned to you. Instead his grandma told him to put on his sweater. She collected her purse, found her keys and then all three of them walked down to Bloomingdale's as if it were a deli. This was normal life. Across Park, down Lex. The boy stood close beside the splendid stranger with the lumpy khaki pack strapped onto her back. That was her blood, he could hear it now, pounding in his ears. He had imagined her a wound-up spring, light, bright, blonde, like Grandma in full whir. She was completely different; she was just the same. By the time they were in Bloomingdale's she was arguing about his name.

What did you just call Che? she asked the grandma.

His name, replied Grandma Selkirk, ruffling the boy's darkening summer hair. That's what I called him. She gave the mother a bright white smile. The boy thought, Oh, oh!

It sounded like Jay, the mother said.

The grandma turned sharply to the shopgirl who was busy staring at the hippie mother.

Let me try the Artemis.

Grandma Selkirk was what they call an Upper East Side woman—cheekbones, tailored gray hair—but that was not what she called herself. I am the last bohemian, she liked to say, to the boy, particularly, meaning that no one told her what to do, at least not since Pa Selkirk had thrown the Buddha out the window and gone to live with the Poison Dwarf.

Grandpa had done a whole heap of other things besides, like giving up his board seat, like going spiritual. When Grandpa moved out, Grandma moved out too. The Park Avenue apartment was hers, always had been, but now they used it maybe once a month. Instead they spent their time on Kenoza Lake near Jeffersonville, New York, a town of 400 where "no one" lived. Grandma made raku pots and rowed a heavy clinker boat. The boy hardly saw his grandpa after that, except sometimes there were postcards with very small handwriting. Buster Selkirk could fit a whole ball game on a single card.

For these last five years it had been just Grandma and the boy together and she threaded the squirming live bait to hook the largemouth bass and, also, called him Jay instead of Che. There were no kids to play with. There were no pets because Grandma was allergic. But in fall there were Cox's pippins, wild storms, bare feet, warm mud and the crushed-glass stars spilling across the cooling sky. You can't learn these things anywhere, the grandma said. She said she planned to bring him up Victorian. It was better than "all this."

He was christened Che, right?

Grandma's wrist was pale and smooth as a flounder's belly. The sunny side of her arm was brown but she had dabbed the perfume on the white side—blue blood, that's what he thought, looking at the veins.

Christened? His father is a Jew, the grandma said. This fragrance is too old for her, she told the Bloomingdale's woman who raised a cautious eyebrow at the mother. The mother shrugged as if to say, What are you going to do? Too floral, Grandma Selkirk said without doubting she would know.

So it's Jay?

Grandma spun around and the boy's stomach gave a squishy sort of lurch. Why are you arguing with me? she whispered. Are you emotionally tone-deaf?

The salesgirl pursed her lips in violent sympathy.

Give me the Chanel, said Grandma Selkirk. While the salesgirl wrapped the perfume, Grandma Selkirk wrote a check. Then she took her pale kid gloves from the glass countertop. The boy watched as she drew them onto each finger, thick as eel skin. He could taste it in his mouth.

You want me to call him Che in Bloomingdale's, his grandma hissed, finally presenting the gift to the mother.

Shush, the mother said.

The grandma raised her eyebrows violently.

Go with the flow, said the mother. The boy petted her on the hip and found her soft, uncorseted.

The flow? The grandma had a bright, fright smile and angry light blue eyes. Go with the flow!

Thank you, the girl said, for shopping at Bloomingdale's.

The grandma's attention was all on the mother. Is that what Communists believe? Che, she cried, waving her gloved hand as in charades.

I'm not a Communist. OK?

The boy wanted only peace. He followed up behind, his stomach churning.

Che, Che! Go with the flow! Look at you! Do you think you could make yourself a tiny bit more ridiculous?

The boy considered his illegal mother. He knew who she was although no one would say it outright. He knew her the way he was used to knowing everything important, from hints and whispers, by hearing someone talking on the phone, although this particular event was so much clearer, had been since the minute she blew into the apartment, the way she held him in her arms and squeezed the air from him and kissed his neck. He had thought of her so many nights and here she was, exactly the same, completely different—honey-colored skin and tangled hair in fifteen shades. She had Hindu necklaces, little silver bells around her ankles, an angel sent by God.

Grandma Selkirk plucked at the Hindu beads. What is this? This is what the working class is wearing now?

I am the working class, she said. By definition.

The boy squeezed the grandma's hand but she snatched it free. Where's his father? They keep showing his face on television. Is he going with the flow as well?

The boy burped quietly in his hand. No one could have heard him but Grandma brushed at the air, as if grabbing at a fly. I called him Jay because I was worried for you, she said at last. Maybe it should have been John Doe. God help me, she cried, and the crowds parted before her. Now I understand I was an idiot to worry.

The mother raised her eyebrows at the boy and, finally, reached to take his hand. He was pleased by how it folded around his, soothing, comfortable. She tickled his palm in secret. He smiled up. She smiled down. All around them Grandma raged.

For this, we paid for Harvard. She sighed. Some Rosenbergs.

The boy was deaf, in love. By now they were out on Lexington Avenue and his grandma was looking for a taxi. The first cab would be theirs, always was. Except that now his hand was inside his true mother's hand and they were marsupials running down into the subway, laughing.

In Bloomingdale's everything had been so white and bright with glistening brass. Now they raced down the steps. He could have flown.

At the turnstiles she released his hand and pushed him under. She slipped off her pack. He was giddy, giggling. She was laughing too. They had entered another planet, and as they pushed down to the platform the ceiling was slimed with alien rust and the floor was flecked and speckled with black gum—so this was the real world that had been crying to him from beneath the grating up on Lex.

They ran together to the local, and his heart was pounding and his stomach was filled with bubbles like an ice-cream float. She took his hand once more and kissed it, stumbling.

The 6 train carried him through the dark, wire skeins unraveling, his entire life changing all at once. He burped again. The cars swayed and screeched, thick teams of brutal cables showing in the windowed dark. And then he was in Grand Central first time ever and they set off underground again, hand in hand, slippery together as newborn goats.

Men lived in cardboard boxes. A blind boy rattled dimes and quarters in a tin. The S train waited, painted like a warrior, and they jumped together and the doors closed as cruel as traps, chop, chop, chop, and his face was pushed against his mother's jasmine dress. Her hand held the back of his head. He was underground, as Cameron in 5D had predicted. They will come for you, man. They'll break you out of here.

In the tunnels between Times Square and Port Authority a passing freak raised his fist. Right On! he called.

He knew you, right?

She made a face.

He's SDS?

She could not have expected that—he had been studying politics with Cameron.

PL? he asked.

She sort of laughed. Listen to you, she said. Do you know what SDS stands for?

Students for a Democratic Society, he said. PL is Progressive Labor. They're the Maoist fraction. See, you're famous. I know all about you.

I don't think so.

You're sort of like the Weathermen.

I'm what?

I'm pretty sure.

Wrong fraction, baby.

She was teasing him. She shouldn't. He had thought about her every day, forever, lying on the dock beside the lake, where she was burnished, angel sunlight. He knew his daddy was famous too, his face on television, a soldier in the fight. David has changed history.

They waited in line. There was a man with a suitcase tied with bright green rope. He had never been anyplace like this before.

Where are we going? There was a man whose face was cut by lines like string through Grandma's beeswax. He said, This bus going to Philly, little man.

The boy did not know what Philly was.

Stay here, the mother said, and walked away. He was by himself. He did not like that. The mother was across the hallway talking to a tall thin woman with an unhappy face. He went to see what was happening and she grabbed his arm and squeezed it hard. He cried out. He did not know what he had done.

You hurt me.

Shut up, Jay. She might as well have slapped his legs. She was a stranger, with big dark eyebrows twisted across her face.

You called me Jay, he cried.

Shut up. Just don't talk.

You're not allowed to say shut up.

Her eyes got big as saucers. She dragged him from the ticket line and when she released her hold he was still mad at her. He could have run away but he followed her through a beat-up swing door and into a long passage with white cinder blocks and the smell of pee everywhere and when she came to a doorway marked facility, she turned and squatted in front of him.

You've got to be a big boy, she said.

I'm only seven.

I won't call you Che. Don't you call me anything.

Don't you say shut up.


Can I call you Mom?

She paused, her mouth open, searching in his eyes for something.

You can call me Dial, she said at last, her color gone all high.



What sort of name is that. It's a nickname, baby. Now come along. She held him tight against her and he once more smelled her lovely smell. He was exhausted, a little sick feeling.

What is a nickname?

A secret name people use because they like you.

I like you, Dial. Call me by my nickname too.

I like you, Jay, she said. They bought the tickets and found the bus and soon they were crawling through the Lincoln Tunnel and out into the terrible misery of the New Jersey Turnpike. It was the first time he actually remembered being with his mother. He carried the Bloomingdale's bag cuddled on his lap, not thinking, just startled and unsettled to be given what he had wanted most of all.

Reading Group Guide

“Magnificent. . . . Alluring, unexpected, and intensely moving.”
The Boston Globe

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of the new novel by two-time Booker Prize–winner Peter Carey.

1. Peter Carey is frequently drawn to writing about outlaws and outcasts. Why do you think this is? Why do we like to read about such characters?

2. What do you think Che's personal and social values are? How has his life been shaped by the lives of his parents, even though he has not been raised by them?

3. Anna Xenos is nicknamed “Dial” (short for dialectic) by her Harvard classmates. It's a playful nickname, given because Dial will argue both opposing sides of an argument, but do you think that the novel itself is in any way dialectical?

4. Late in the novel, Dial feels that she had “brought all this about. If only she had not done this. If only she had not done that. Everything she touched was broken” [p. 263]. Is she right? How might she have acted differently?

5. Dial tells Che, “You're a pretty amazing kid” [p. 271]. In what ways is Che an amazing kid? What is unusual about the way he sees the world?

6. Dial says of her actions: “You take the kid to the father, but the father doesn't want to know. By then you are accused of kidnapping. You get frightened. You run away. Dumb, but not criminal” [p. 245]. Do you think Dial is guilty of kidnapping, or simply of making what seems to be the best choices available in a very difficult situation?

7. In what ways does His Illegal Self illuminate the social and political tensions of the 1960s? What role does Dial's own social status, and her relationship to the Selkirk family, play?

8. Why doesn't Dial tell Che that she's not his mother? Is she simply protecting him, or does she have some unconscious motive for wishing to play the role of his mother?

9. Dial thinks that the most remarkable thing about Che was his “perfect trust” [p. 120]. Does Che lose his trust in Dial and the adults around him over the course of the novel? In what ways can His Illegal Self be read as a story about the loss of innocence?

10. Looking back, Dial regrets the moment when she took Susan Selkirk's number and, “relishing her connection with the famous,” decided to call her [p. 62]. Why does she call Susan and agree to her request? In what sense is this a major turning point in her life?

11. What is life like in the Queensland hippie commune? In what ways does the commune seem to perpetuate, rather than reject, many of the social rules and behaviors it has tried to abandon?

12. What role does Trevor play in the story? How do Che's feelings about him change over the course of the novel?

13. The novel ends with this remarkable sentence: “Even as an adult he would believe that something physical had been left inside him—small, smooth, not a pearl, more lustrous, luminous, a sort of seed which he would eventually pretend to believe was simply a memory, nothing more, that he would carry along the littered path which would be his own comic and occasionally disastrous life” [p. 272]. What is that “seed” which has been left inside Che? What kind of life do you think he is likely to have after such a childhood?

14. What does the novel reveal about our own time? Are there significant parallels between the worlds Carey describes and America's current social and political situation?

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His Illegal Self 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pardon me, but shouldn't anyone with a career in the business of books have a good grasp of proper grammar? Anyway, this book's pretty interesting, and it has a particular style to it, but it's easy to adjust to. At least go read the excerpt.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a well written account of the ties that bind us all-- history, politics, love, fear, nature-- it's all there. you will cry, but laugh, and find yourself rooting for the freedom you may discover that you, too, seek. read it.
bookfest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Spoiler alert.Dial's character emerges throughout the novel, as bits of her history are revealed and as she copes with her unexpected circumstances. A scholarship student from Southie, who should be starting her career at Vasaar, she is yanked back into the politics of the 60s by Susan Selkirk, her college friend, a revolutionary, an outlaw. Susan asks Dial's help in arranging a visit with her son Che, who has been put into his wealthy grandmother's custody. But events go terribly arry and Dial and Che are on the run... all the way to Australia, where they take uncomfortable shelter in a commune. Che (or Jay) struggles to cope with events he does not understand, with an identity that has been hidden from him. This is a powerful novel with constantly developing and shifting characters and a plot line that is both tense and tender. I will defintiely want to read more of Peter Carey's books!
CasualFriday on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my first stab at one of Carey's novels. Maybe I started with the wrong one. The premise is intriguing - a Weather Underground-type radical kidnaps a young boy from his wealthy grandmother and spirits him away to the Australian bush. How could this possibly be dull? It probably isn't dull at all, perhaps I'm dull. But I couldn't connect with this book. What is the aesthetic theory behind the current practice of omitting quotation marks in written dialog? I know what the effect is. It usually distances me from the characters and focuses my attention on the craftsman behind the words. The quotation marks signal my brain that people are talking, and it's time to jump in and play with my imaginary friends. It may be that writers of modern literary fiction do not want readers to make imaginary friends with their characters. I wonder why.Oddly, the lack of quotation marks in The Road bothered me not at all.
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This beautifully written book tells a compelling and unique story, allowing readers to experience political rebellion through the eyes of a precocious child. The characters are believable, and the writing vividly captures a turbulent era.
bibliobibuli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Peter Carey's new novel His Illegal Self, the child, a seven year old called Che is not only a willing party to abduction, he's actually been waiting for it. They will come for you, man. they'll break you out of herehis neighbour predicts, referring to the boy's parents, famous student radicals on the run from the FBI.When Dial arrives one day at the apartment Che shares with his grandmother in New Yorks Upper East Side, he recognises her immediately, and soon the pair are on the run from the law and with financial and, with tactical help from the activists, eventually skip the country and find themselves on the run in Australia. Is she his real mother though?Now I must confess that I found myself frequently scratching my head in the first part of this book, struggling to find out exactly what was happening. I felt as if I were watching a film through frosted class - I couldn't quite get the picture into focus and I felt distanced. Most of the pieces do fall into place later in the novel, but still there is still a need to suspend a fair old bit of disbelief.For me the book really began to pull together once the pair move into a hut in the inhospitable Queensland wilds, and find themselves part of an equally inhospitable hippy community (based on a commune Carey had once been part of) guaranteed to knock any residual nostalgia for the good old '60's and 70's firmly on the head.(I must add a note here while I remember that I am thinking of founding a society for the prevention of cruelty to fictional animals, because the incident with the cat was totally uncalled for, I thought.)The great strength of the book is in Carey's ability to create characters we can fully believe in and want to root for. His portrait of the watchful, needy Che is pitch perfect. We sympathise deeply with Dial, torn between regret for opportunities lost (she was due to start a new career as a college when she found herself drawn into her friend's mess) and her fierce love for Che whom she took care of for a time when he was a baby. The narrative is told at times from her perspective, at times from his, and I very much like the way that sometimes the same event (most notably the actual abduction) is viewed through both sets of eyes to show the differences in the child's and the adult's perception.There's also Trevor, their neighbour in the commune is just the kind of wily rascal that Carey excels at creating, who gradually assumes the role of a father figure to Che and lover to Dial.It's a sort of modern adage that there are two kinds of families, those we are born into, and those we struggle to create. In his novels, Carey frequently draws characters who are in some sense orphaned as these three are. The love that grows gradually between them is earthy and real. So real in fact that I wanted to spin the last few chapters of the book out for as long as possible, though when I got there, the life-affirming ending had me cheering.So in the end, yes, I was a satisfied reader, although I didn't feel as strongly for the book as I have done for most of Carey's other novels, notably The True History of the Kelly Gang, and Theft.
sabreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stylistically unlike any of Carey's other novels, this one can be a bit confusing, but I think that's the point. Sort of told from the perspective of 7 year old Che, it captures the confusion and anxieties of late 60s early 70s fugitive radicals, combined with the experience of early 70s hippies commune living in rural Australia. It took a bit for me to get into it, but since I love Carey I kept going and it was well worth it.
maggieball on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Che Selkirk is a boy whose parents, members of the increasingly violent Students for a Democratic Society, have both disappeared, leaving him with his very rich grandmother. At the age of eight, a woman that Che recognises as his mother suddenly arrives and kidnaps him, taking him from New York to Australia. This is how the book begins, and Che¿s adventure through hunger, love and loss becomes almost a coming of age tale as he starts to understand who he is and where his future lies.

On the simplest of levels, the book is a super fast-paced race across the globe as Che and Dial attempt to hide from the police and carve an existence for themselves. The plot is propelled by both the readers own dislocation as they come to grips with the distortions between the two narrative voices. Both Che and Dial are presented as equals ¿ joint narrators in this story, but their stories aren¿t identical. The reader is put in the uncomfortable position of being between them, unable to discount either the intensity of Che¿s needs, or the combination of confusion and desire which motivates Dial. Both need one another, and continue to work together at avoiding the truth and avoiding the law, at the same time they find themselves removed from their usual lives, and co-opted for causes they don¿t believe in.

As in so many of Carey¿s novels, real love and visual artifice become the two forces that move the narrative along. It¿s a search for a truth that isn¿t nearly as obvious as one might think. It¿s about the way love crisscrosses us ¿ marks us, makes us whole, and hurts us at the same time.

Carey handles it all very subtly, weaving privilege, pain and damage together into a beautiful tapestry. Nothing seems stable, and yet there¿s something solid growing ¿ that ¿sharp searing pain that didn¿t hurt¿ ¿ something real, absolutely true, and physical that stays with us through life¿s changes.

There are no fireworks in this book ¿ the prose is light and smooth, but looking closely, each sentence is wrought with meaning and intensity. Che is ¿gooseflesh, head to toes¿ as he realizes how helpless he is. When dial hears a girl calling for the lost Che, she recognizes this ¿dreadful sympathy.¿ The hippy landscape of Nambour, from the home grown vegetables to the scruffy undergrowth is almost lovingly depicted.

Like even the blackest of Carey¿s novels (and for me, it¿s tempting to almost see this novel as the antidote to The Tax Inspector), there¿s a strong undercurrent of humour. Dial is subsumed in the small-mindedness of Australia, and yet she holds onto desperately to her status: ¿Her mother would have died to see her genius in a dump like this.¿ (36) She was an ¿SDS goddess¿, the Alice May Twitchell Fellow ¿ an assistant professor at Vassar College, stuck in the backwoods of Australia where, as with any commune, the pettiness is all pervasive. She puts up shelving for lentils, lines the house with crooked boards, and tries to procure the services of a Zoot-suited lawyer to argue her case back in America so Che can go home, but her ignorance is obvious enough to the hippies whose commune she joins.

Trevor tells her at one point ¿You¿re American. You wouldn¿t know if you were up yourself¿ (70). She begins to know whether she¿s ¿up herself¿ as the book progresses however. Dial¿s painful learning curve is part of what makes this novel work.

In an act of remarkable self-control, Carey leaves the story open, suggesting a long and complex history which the reader isn¿t privy to. This last sentence so changes the story that this reader at least went back and re-read it in its entirety, taking in the rich linguistic power which Carey has become famous for. Che is believable, both as the 8 year old boy struggling to find himself, and as the older, wiser narrator he becomes by the end of the book. One can imagine many other landscapes, or books growing out of this boy. Bu
ChazzW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carey¿s new novel concerns a radical from the 60¿s who somewhat by default ends up kidnapping a seven year old boy from his upper crust Manhattan apartment. Anna Xenos, drawn back into old alliances, agrees to help a former underground associate see her son for a brief visit. Things do not work out as planned, and Anna, with Che in tow, finds herself on the run. Where does she run to? Queensland, Australia - a primitive outback that has an almost feral affect on those living there. And its Carey¿s vivid description of her hideaway landscape, that has the author¿s prose soaring and dripping with sense of place.Yet it¿s hard to say whether the star of the show here is Carey¿s beloved overgrown outback, or the wonderfully delicate and fluid relationship between mother (or not) and child. Che moves from a sense of rescue and blind devotion, to a questioning rebellion to a growing sense that if a way is to be made, it must be he who makes it. Anna moves from her sense of strict duty to a realization that she needs the love of this boy as much as he needs a mother.Just when Anna is about to leave her old radical life behind and settle into the mellow arc of an academic career, her past comes a¿callin¿. One last debt she owes her former comrades. And the fateful tug at her sleeve changes her life forever. Deeper and deeper into Australia she goes, and further underground - literally. She finds herself amongst a bizarre collection of Aussie hippies, a dilapidated yet fecund commune that¿s a cross between Lord of The Flies and Huckleberry Finn.This is a realm that Anna and the boy are forced into for their very survival. By the end of the novel they¿ve found not only safety, not only anonymity, but a sense of a new life, an empowerment to make their own way, under their own terms.Both Anna and the boy Che grow to a certain place. Interestingly, Che grows faster and swifter than Anna, whose pace of life has slowed. Ultimately, they end up embracing their mutual future together as one.
ShelfMonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Peter Carey is no stranger to accolades. In addition to writing nine bestselling novels and winning the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the Australian-born author has twice received the famed Man Booker Prize, for Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang. It may be premature at this point to suggest that Carey think about preparing more room on his trophy shelf. Yet whether it wins any awards or not, the fact remains that his newest novel, His Illegal Self -- a brilliantly unsentimental fiction about trust, love and dishonesty -- is a spectacular return to form after the uneven duo of My Life as a Fake and Theft. His Illegal Self primarily concerns itself with two characters, Che and Dial. Che is a privileged seven-year-old in 1970s New York, raised by his grandmother in a repressive atmosphere of isolation, kept away from radios or televisions for reasons "as tangled as old nylon line, snagged with hooks and spinners and white oxidized lead weights." The rationale soon becomes apparent with the arrival of Dial (short for dialectic), a seemingly freewheeling spirit Che automatically assumes is his mother come back to claim him. This error only becomes one of many, as the pair soon discovers themselves on the run, victims of misunderstanding, misinformation and plain bad luck. Their convoluted path eventually leads them to Australia, specifically Queensland, "a police state run by men who never finished high school." Taking up residence in a dilapidated area of farmland, Che and Dial come up against the triple terrors of punishing climate, anti-American attitudes and each other's convoluted feelings toward the other. To give away more would be to destroy much of the pleasure of Carey's tale, a wide-ranging chase story that nevertheless achieves a shivering intimacy. Che and Dial, two intriguing literary characters, are a pair firmly entrenched in Carey's adoration of misfits and outsiders. Che may be one the finest characters Carey has yet created, and one of the most fully realized representations of a child in quite some time. Innocent and bright, stubborn yet never precocious, nervy yet uncomprehending, Che firmly belongs in the pantheon of great fictional children. After the somewhat constrained Theft, Carey feels loose and invigorated, wielding his command of storytelling with elation and deftness. His deceptively muted language, "some words as plain as pebbles, many more that [hold] their secrets like the crunchy bodies of wasps or grasshoppers," is a joy to read. Despite this newfound release, HIs Illegal Self never loses control and becomes a showcase for Carey's cleverness. He keeps an even hand on the more bizarre turns, and even as the narrative flows into disquieting tragedy and tears, the emotional knot of Che and Dial remains the novel's touching core. His Illegal Self is a wonderful novel, Carey's best since The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith. If, as hinted throughout the pages, there is more to tell about Che's life, Carey had best take his time on the sequel. His Illegal Self is too good to soil with a lesser followup.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
IM from europe and im a book critic. i have never seen anything so horrible looking in my life,and trust me i've seen a lot.the book has no colourful essence to it!if I wasn't paid to read this book would have never of read this piece nonscense.