The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
A post-colonial reworking of the story of Great Expectations, Jack Maggs is the tale of a transported convict who returns secretly to England to see Henry Phipps, the adopted son whose education he has financed. Unlike Great Expectations however, the convict's story is the central narrative of the book, rather than that of the young gentleman he has secretly fostered. Jack Maggs has known very little kindness in his life and this does not change when he finally meets up with Henry. He returns to Australia after the meeting having witnessed the destruction of the dream he had nourished for so many years.
Running parallel to the narrative of Jack Maggs is the story of the novelist, Tobias Oates, clearly based on Charles Dickens, who encounters Maggs by chance in the household of a friend. Entangled in a relationship with his wife's sister, struggling to survive financially, and always looking for new material, Oates becomes fascinated with the convict's violent history, almost to his own undoing.
I never find Peter Carey an easy read. Nonetheless, this is a richly textured book, full of resonance. The language is muscular, the voice compelling and the whole thing seems to be attended by a dark energy that brings the story and the characters to life with startling clarity