Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Carey's Ned Kelly

Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang, 2000. This Booker Prize winner is about the real-life outlaw Ned Kelly, a Jesse James of the outback of Victoria, Australia in the late 19th century. It is full of action and contains fine passages set in the wilderness. Both the vernacular speech and the inner monologue of the title character are excellently done. The Irish identity of Kelly and his family, and the economic and legal injustices to which poor "transported" Irish were subjected by the colonial authorities, are among the real subjects of the book. Ned is a stubborn enough force of nature to hold our sympathy without heroics. Carey's Australian contribution to the outlaw genre is an instant classic.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Plunkett's Strumpet City

James Plunkett, Strumpet City (1969) This is Plunkett's biggest and most ambitious work and generally regarded as his masterpiece. It is a novel of social realism with obvious debts to Dickens and Balzac. A large cast of characters live out personal and social dramas during the vicious dockside labor wars in Dublin from 1907 to 1914, important stage-setting for the subsequent war for independence. Try reading this one first and then reading Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry.

Meanwhile Strumpett's book caricatures the three priests of a poor parish, three working men on the front lines of the strikes and lockouts and their women and families, a rich but worldly and liberal-minded owner and his less enlightened tenement-owning friends, two destitute men who beg in the streets and others (the characters weave in and out of each others' lives). The title character, of course, is Dublin itself, a shocking strumpet of a city where all the foibles of human nature are laid bare for all the world to see. This is a big novel, 549 pages, but if you like to read progressive, historical novels of social realism then you'll enjoy Strumpet City.