- True History of the Kelly Gang
infobox Book |
name = True History of the Kelly Gang
author = Peter Carey
language = English
genre = Crime,
University of QueenslandPress
media_type = Print (Hardback and
pages | isbn = ISBN 0-7022-3236-X
My Life as a Fake
"True History of the Kelly Gang" is a historical novel by
Australian writer Peter Carey. It was first published in Brisbaneby the University of QueenslandPress in 2000. It won the 2001 Man Booker Prizeand the Commonwealth Writers Prizein the same year. Despite its title, the book is fiction and a variation on the Ned Kellystory.
In an effort to attract foreign readers to the story, the book's American publisher,
Alfred Knopf, heralded the book as a "great American novel", even though the novel takes place entirely within Australia. The claim that this book is an "American novel" appears to be based on the fact that author Peter Carey, an Australian, has lived in New Yorkfor many years.
Ned Kelly begins his
autobiographywith a description of his father, John "Red" Kelly, an Irishman transported to Van Diemen's Landand eventually settling in the colony of Victoria, Australia. After marrying Ned's eventual mother Ellen (née Quinn), the Kellys settle in Avenel, a rural area northeast of Melbourne. Red Kelly is shown to have numerous brushes with the colonial police forces, resulting in his imprisonment and eventual death when his son Ned was twelve years of age.
After the rest of the family resettles in northeast Victoria under the Land Grant Act, Ned's mother attempts to provide for her children by running a
shebeenand taking on a series of lovers, including the notorious bushrangerHarry Power. Power agrees to take on the young Ned as an apprentice, and provides Ned with knowledge of the land, hideouts, and strategies for bushranging. Kelly eventually leaves Power and returns to his family's settlement, where he is shown making dogged attempts to live an honest lifestyle.
Kelly is arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for reception of a stolen horse (although Kelly claims that a friend, "Wild" Wright, knowingly sold him the stolen horse without Kelly's knowledge - Kelly later extracts revenge on Wright in a bare-knuckle boxing match). After two years of working as a
sawmillhand, he is drawn back to bushranging when a herd of his horses is appropriated by a rival squatter. His descent back into crime is precipitated by a visit from a local police officer, Constable Alex Fitzpatrick. The policeman woos Ned's younger sister Kate, prompting Ned to reveal that Fitzpatrick has multiple mistresses in other towns and has no intention of marrying Kate. After his mother Ellen threatens the constable with violence, Fitzpatrick pulls his revolveron the family and Ned shoots him in the hand in self-defense. Although he dresses the wound and Fitzpatrick leaves while promising that no action will be taken, warrants for the arrest of Ned and his younger brother Dan are issued the next day.
Ned Kelly and his brother Dan hide out in the hills of northeast Victoria, eventually being joined by their friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne (later becoming known as the Kelly Gang). Kelly's mother is eventually arrested along with her baby daughter and imprisoned in
Melbourneas enticement for Kelly to give himself up. A detachment of four policemen is eventually sent to kill the quartet after efforts to arrest them prove unsuccessful; the Kelly Gang ambushes them at Stringybark Creek, where Ned kills three of the policemen. This adds to the growing folklore surrounding the Kelly Gang, which they fuel by robbing banks and giving parts of the money to the lower-class settlers in Victoria who help to shelter the gang.
During the gang's raids, Ned Kelly meets a young Irish girl named Mary Hearn, who already has a young son by Kelly's stepfather, George King. Kelly falls in love with Mary and makes plans to escape the colony with her after she becomes pregnant with his child. Crucially, it is Mary who motivates Kelly to begin writing the story of his life as a legacy for his future child, who she fears will never know its father. Following two successful bank robberies, Mary uses the money to emigrate to
San Franciscowith her son and Kelly's unborn daughter; Kelly remains behind, however, unwilling to leave Australiauntil his mother is released from jail.
The gang is eventually cornered by a large squad of dozens of policemen (versus just four in the Kelly Gang) in the town of
Glenrowanwhere the gang has taken numerous hostages and constructed several suits of plate-steel armor for protection. One of the hostages is the crippled local schoolmaster, Thomas Curnow, who encourages Kelly to relate the story of his entire life after seeing samples of his writing. Curnow betrays the gang by warning the incoming police train that the gang has sabotaged the tracks, feeling that history will view him as a "hero". The policemen surround the town and engage in a furious shootout with the armor-clad gang, seriously wounding Ned Kelly and killing the other three members of the gang. Kelly's narrative stops abruptly just before the shootout itself; a secondary narrator, identified as "S.C", relates the tale of the gunfight and Kelly's eventual death by hanging. Since Curnow is shown to have escaped Glenrowanwith Kelly's manuscripts, it is assumed that this narrator is a relative of Curnow's. Kelly dies a hero to the people of northeastern Victoria, with the legend of his life left to grow over time.
The novel is divided into thirteen sections (each ostensibly written by Kelly), with a short description at the beginning of each section describing the physical condition of the original manuscripts. The novel also includes a preface and a frame narrative at the end which describe the events of Kelly's final shootout at
Glenrowanand his eventual death sentence. Carey departs from what is known about Kelly's life by providing him with a lover and a daughter, for whom he has been recording his life history whilst on the run from the police.
The novel is written in a distinctive
vernacularstyle, with little in the way of punctuationor grammar; the influence of Kelly's Irish heritage is also apparent in his language. The style is similar to Kelly's only surviving piece of writing, the JerilderieLetter. Excepting the frame narratives of "S.C", the novel does not contain any commas. Although there is much profanity in the novel, it has been censored (replacing vulgarities with terms such as "effing" or "adjectival") for the benefit of Kelly's fictional daughter, presumably by Kelly himself.
Horses play a significant role throughout the novel, paralleling at times both the confinement and freedom of Kelly and his family. The night sky is admired and expounded upon by Kelly throughout his history, usually standing as an infinite and ancient contrast to the brevity of his life on earth [p.337] . The pivotal importance of storytelling and the seeking of truth is a theme which dominates the work as a whole, and is manifested in numerous ways not only through Ned Kelly but also through many of the other characters.
* [http://www.mirroroftheworld.com.au/imagination/ned_kelly/video_carey.php Interview with Peter Carey] about the novel
* [http://www.reviewk.com/ Book Review]
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