Monday, 27 April 2009

Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

Jack Maggs returns to London in secret from Australia where he has been deported but made his fortune. He is searching for the occupier of a house in Great Queen Street but while he knocks on number 27 he is spotted by Mercy Larkin who thinks he is at the wrong house and has come for the interview for a butlers appointment at her employers house. Jack falls in with this for his own reasons and is employed to be butler to Percy Buckle. One of Buckle's visitors is the famous author Tobias Oates who is skilled in mesmerism. He promises to cure Jack of a muscle spasm by hypnosis but unlocks secrets that would be dangerous to be known abut Jack and which will impact upon all the lives of those present at the mesmerism, including the servant who listens at the door.

London's murky underbelly is laid bare as Jack Magg's life story gradually unfolds from his orphan upbringing, the reason for his deportation to the colonies and his dangerous return.

Carey has taken the character of the title from Dicken's 'Great Expectations' but apart from that very little remains of the original novel. Perhaps the character of Tobias Oates is supposed to represent Dickens who, in this story, is obsessed with Maggs because he is in search of a idea for his next novel.

This is a dark story full of secrets and damaged people, all in fear of poverty or position, nearly all willing to exploit others.

Peter Carey cranks up the level of trepidation as he plunges you into the Victorian world and the quest of his anti-hero Jack Maggs to find Henry Phipps which entangles everyone around him and no one escapes from the consequences of their actions for good or ill.

I recommend this book but if you have not read any Peter Carey before then I would suggest starting with 'Oscar and Lucinda' which is set in the same century.

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