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Old December 16th, 2005, 01:39 PM
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'True History of the Kelly Gang' by Peter Carey, book review

Let me start by saying that this is not an objective review. It’s not even a review really, more my thoughts and impressions. If you’re at all interested in the Kelly gang, this book is a must read. But keep in mind that despite the title, this is still fiction woven in with fact – though I have seen this book placed in the ‘History’ section in at least one bookshop!

The voice of the book is Ned talking to his daughter that he’s never seen, recording his life: “I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in hell if I speak false.”

The book covers Ned’s childhood and troubled relationship with his father and his special bond with his mother, the trouble with police they always seemed to have and the everyday struggle to survive in a pretty inhospitable environment, against ever increasing odds, leading to the inevitable conclusion at Glenrowan.

I love the way Carey writes, you can just hear Ned’s voice and see through his eyes. Funny at times, beautiful, heartbreaking. His frustration, trying to get the authorities to listen. His loyalty to his family and friends. You read and you keep wishing the ending is going to be different…

“O I wish to God I were not your adjectival mate he cried I don’t want what lies ahead.” (Joe Byrne to Ned after Ned thanks him for telling him about Aaron’s deal with the police.) The scene where Joe hacks to pieces the leather straps of the undertakers… And Glenrowan, Ned crawling along the floor of the hotel to Joe… How can you not be moved?

I loved this book.

~Gem~
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Old December 16th, 2005, 08:00 PM
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Gem it sounds fantastic and very very sad. Just the few sentences you have quoted made me teary.

It is not my sort of book as I usually only like ones with happy endings but I think I will make the effort to read this.

Thanks for the review
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Old December 17th, 2005, 12:19 AM
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It is sad Ki but it's also very funny in places. The time Ned spends with the notorious bushranger Harry Power as his 'apprentice' for example has some comic moments.

I guess I could liken it to a river: at first it flows slowly, dreamily, turning off into smaller channels, taking its time, giving you a chance to look at the scenery along the way. Then the undercurrent gets stronger and you're moving faster and before you know it you're being hurtled along towards the waterfall that comes at the end...

~Gem~
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Old December 17th, 2005, 02:08 AM
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Gem you are a poet.
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Old December 17th, 2005, 08:34 AM
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Fantastic- thanks for your review and thoughts Gem. I agree it is an incredible book-

There is so much controversy and so many versions of events that it is completely impossible I would imagine to separate fact from legend in some instances, what this book does is to tell the story of the Kelly Gang using the form of a novel, using devices such as the invention of his daughter to let the reader in on personal information. It is presented in a series of douments recording periods of ned'd life and is just BURSTING with details to pour over.

I have to confess when i first bought the book i scoured the pages for Joe Byrne wanting to find more of him that that woefully short film. That same Joe isn't there exactly, but echoes and threads and a sense of place and the incredible bond between Ned and Joe as Gem said. Joe Byrne trying unsuccessfully to convince ned that they should leave for America, but no question that he would in anycase stay and be his right hand man. He is hard and judgemental and desperate.
Some of you will know this but it sums up a lot for me, Ned on Joe-

He were a hard man he were known as Snake Eyes and Bullet Eyes but them that named him thus had not looked into them eyes to see a 24yr. old staring down the barrel of his own destruction

The descriptions of the life that the selectors had are shocking and desperate, hunger, illness, oppression, the debasing experiences of Ned's mother and a greyness that the film didn't quite convey but always met with opposition and spirit. The last section at Glenrowan is simply breathtaking-short stuccato sentences of description mixed up with thoughts and speech, it is literally hard to breathe will quote a little but you need the whole thing

Is that you, Ned? cried avoice from the hallway.
Is that you Joe? come here.
Come here be damned. What are you doing there?
Come here and load my rifle. I'm cooked
So am I. Dear God, I think my leg is broken..

Leg be damned, Joe, you've got the use of your arms. Come with me and load my rifle, come on, load for me! I'll pink the b----rs! Hare is finished. We'll soon do the rest
We've done these poor b----rs an awful harm
Well we ain't lost yet.
Joe Byrne did not answer
Where are you? Ned began to kneel and then his leg collapsed, he fell heavily. Immediately he began to crawl forward, scraping the heavy steel ****-plate along the floor. -Here, load my rifle. Joe?
With his good right hand he found Joe Byrne's hand but it was limp and bloody as a fresh skinned beast.
Joe?
He pulled himself closer and propped himself against the wall.
In the darkness he located his friend's nose and mouth, then places his hand across them. The beard was soft and wet, the lips were warm against the palm but all that fretful breath was still.
Oh Joe, I'm so sorry, old man

speechless.

Thank you Gem and when you have done with 'My Sunshine' ...
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Old December 17th, 2005, 09:23 AM
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I must admit reading this book was an eye opener for me. Not having grown up and gone to school in Australia I'm not as well versed in Australian history as I could/should be. I think I know more about the early days of colonisation and convicts and the recent history than the period in between as described in this book. The life that Ned's mother had for instance, and his sisters as well - it's hard to even imagine for a woman in today's world. The near-starvation diet, constant stomach problems, practically non-existent health care were the way of life for most people. How they still managed to keep hoping and trying to improve their lives against all the odds is beyond me.

~Gem~
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Old December 17th, 2005, 09:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nuit
In the darkness he located his friend's nose and mouth, then places his hand across them. The beard was soft and wet, the lips were warm against the palm but all that fretful breath was still.
Oh Joe, I'm so sorry, old man
This has just had me in tears.
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Old December 17th, 2005, 12:29 PM
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I agree Ki!!! Unfortunately I already have a large 'to read' list, with little time to read. But this has been appended. Thanks for the thoughts ladies
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Old December 17th, 2005, 11:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KiwiGirl
This has just had me in tears.
me too " but all that fretful breath was still." just heartbreaking

You are spot on Gem- it IS impossible to imagine. The passage where Ned's mother is pushing bits of rain soaked cake under the door of the cell- just gut wrenching.
I love the style of the book too, the language the 'adjectival' swearing and the old fashioned way he expresses himself.

aaron..now there's a conundrum..
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Old December 18th, 2005, 12:12 AM
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Sorry to interrupt you.

Can you give an ISBN no. of that book so I can ask for it at my local foreign book seller. Sounds tempting.


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Old December 18th, 2005, 02:14 AM
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Naz: ISBN 1 74166 034 3

I agree about the ending - it actually had a stronger effect on me than the ending in the film.

~Gem~
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Old December 19th, 2005, 07:25 PM
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I think I am definately going to have to check this book out. I read an excerpt of it on Amazon.com and was moved near to tears with just the first few pages. Now you bring us the scene at Glenrowen... I'm a mess.

Last edited by BellaU; December 19th, 2005 at 07:27 PM.
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Old December 19th, 2005, 10:50 PM
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It is not an easy read, what is thats worth reading I guess, but the Booker prize was well deserved in my opinion. I love the quote on the back
'in a dazzling act of ventriloquism, Peter Carey gives Ned Kelly a voice so wild, passionate and original that it is impossible not to believe that the famous bushranger himself is speaking from beyond the grave'
and it IS! You get completely swept along with it. There is a fantastic passage where Joe crosses a swollen river, at first unaware of the danger but drawing the police away from the rest of them, his horse dipping down into the water and then back up again as the police fire. they are certain he is drowned, but are still in hiding when he returns 'effin' and cussing' that they have run off an left him.
The tension is simply palpable all through, but the snippets of humanity shine like blazing stars. Is a great book Naz and Bella- I am sure you would love it
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Old December 20th, 2005, 12:06 AM
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Oh yes, I loved that bit of Joe crossing the Murray... He'd been saying he would go to America and the others were teasing him when he came back, asking what the girls were like there! That's what I love about this book, the little snippets of humour along the way, it feels so REAL.

~Gem~
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Old December 20th, 2005, 11:04 PM
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awww there first time I had heard anything about Ned Kelly was by watching the dvd and when it said about the real Ned Kelly. Because my world history is not very good, we ave enough of our own to keep us busy at school haha.
In the film I really liked the understated realtionship between Ned and Joe they were never blatent but there was something there. same with Joe and Aaron. I did feel sorry for Aaron coz he wasn't bad and he had good intentions. *aranel goes into big sigh* only way i can describe it by sighing
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Old December 21st, 2005, 04:21 AM
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This book sounds really good; I will have to keep an eye out for it.

The Glenrowan scene is just devastating.
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Old March 4th, 2006, 06:18 AM
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I have just finished reading... I enjoyed it, found it amusing in places and very sad in others. I cried like a baby when it talked about the birth of Ned's daughter, even though this was fantasy it really touched me. Of course from there it grew sadder and sadder...

The only thing I have to say is that it seemed so lacking in detail at the end, of course there were not writings of Ned's available for that time but I was a little disappointed that it just finished so hastely. So much detail throughout based on the manuscripts and then felt like it was just rushed through.

I still feel like I have only brushed the surface though that although a lot of this was taken from Ned's own writings that there is so much more to the story..I suppose it is something that we will never really know but it has certainly made me want to read more.
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Old March 19th, 2006, 04:08 PM
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I thought some of you might be interested in this- is a link to an interview with Peter Carey regarding the book.

Peter Carey on The Compulsive Reader

is fascinating how he blends fiction and fact!
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Old March 19th, 2006, 10:40 PM
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Thank you for that link, Nuit. A very interesting interview.

So no plans yet for a film on the book then...

~Gem~
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Old June 29th, 2007, 02:57 PM
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I just finished reading Peter Carey's book and I loved it. Loved the style it was written in and how well the hardships of the selectors lives came across. It was great to get such a glimpse into how Ned's childhood might have been and his growing up. Although it is fiction, its based so much on fact and I really felt as though it was Ned himself speaking through the pages it felt so real. I agree it deserved the Booker Prize. Fascinating and insightful and of course sad too.
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Old June 29th, 2007, 10:25 PM
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it is an intriguing book- not always easy to read, but a real feat of fact and fiction and form. There is a copy of it in the Bristol Museum of Empire and Commonwealth, which I thought was interesting, also a union organising poster that used the image of the iron helmet. Australia's history and how the Kelly gang fit into that is fascinating.
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Old June 30th, 2007, 11:06 AM
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That's very interesting about the British Museum. I read the Carey interview too. It was good. Thanks for finding so much information.
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Old March 9th, 2008, 12:27 PM
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I have finished this book now & with much sadness-I had been looking for this book to buy in Auckland & finally got it on Trade Me, only for it to arrive the same day Heath died I was too upset to read it for a long while, I kept picking it up & looking at Ned's picture on the front, & really just couldn't bring myself to, but here I am & I'm glad I got through it, & I'm surprisingly glad that some of it was fiction! The torturing of that horse & what the cops did to baby George was almost unreadable for me...
& that part you quoted Nuit~'In the darkness he located his friend's nose and mouth, then places his hand across them. The beard was soft and wet, the lips were warm against the palm but all that fretful breath was still.
Oh Joe, I'm so sorry, old man'
I could imagine Ned's anguish at this point, when everything was not going to plan...gawd, the incredible sadness & loss at this stage-& of course it only gets worse.
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Old March 9th, 2008, 09:28 PM
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sigh. Well I guess by then TC he knew it was all gone to ****, but Joe dead..well it must have been a huge blow. Joe was his friend and his lieutenant. What Ned did though was quite incredible wasn't it? 28 bullet wounds and he still came back to try and save Dan and Steve.

The book is brilliant, I loved Mary- his fictious lover, how she argued with him and Joe, how she carried their irish history and also the future. It made the whole book so poignant being a kind of letter to his daughter
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Old March 9th, 2008, 11:07 PM
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Oh losing Joe a huge blow for sure, & then knowing you couldn't protect your younger brother either must have been gut-wrenching.

I think Mary certainly stirred things up a bit!
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