My Life As A Fake by Peter Carey
A strong original voice:
The very next night, Chubb had a ‘vision.’ He was not drunk; he’d taken a single glass of McWilliams Burgundy. He was not overtired; the event occurred a little after nine o’clock on a spring evening. He had washed his plate and his knife and his fork, then carried his chrome and vinyl chair from the kitchen to his desk, an army trestle table he’d positioned in the bow window at the front of the living room. In daylight he might have looked out to where the jacarandas, although they never found a way into his poetry, dropped their loaded petals in a luminous, lilac carpet on the avenue. It was dark and he could see no more than his reflection. For a long while the scratching of his post-office pen was the only sound in the room.
He heard rustling in some leaves outside but the poem was one of his beloved double sestinas, a form in which the last words of each stanza are repeated though in a new order. It is never an easy endeavour, and as he proceeded the difficulty grew exponentially, a context in which he was not interested in rustling leaves.
Then came a loud rapping on the glass, and his immediate response was anger. Cheh! I imagined it was that littler bugger Blackhall, nagging me to close the gate.
He flung open the window in some exasperation. There was no Blackhall.
Boys, he decided. Scabby-kneed boys, boys with erections in their pockets and heads filled with ignorant opinions. He returned to work, back to the beginning, like one of Malarmé’s sacred spiders whose web has been broken by a cow. Ten minutes later he was going very well and when he looked up again, in the eighth stanza the last piece of the puzzle was hovering on the edges of his cerebrum.
It was then Chubb saw it. You must not laugh at me, he said.
It was a bloody horror, he said in a voice turned suddenly hollow, his hooded eyes challenging me.
I felt the hairs rise on my neck. Boys?
No, no. A ghastly snotty epidermis, sticking to the glass, like a human squid in an aquarium. I will never forget it – whiskers on the lips, the red maw stretched wide open. You are laughing at me?
McCorkle was kissing you?
It was not funny. Besides, how had he found me?
Noussette . . .
Of course not.
He paused. It was not like that, he said, and with his fingertips he brushed away the dry white spittle in the corners of his mouth. I finally understood, he said quietly. I had brought him forth.
Brought him forth.
Choy! How do I know from where? From hell, I suppose. How would I know where I brought him forth from? I imagined someone and he came into being.
Based on a case which was widely reported in Australia, Carey presents us with Christopher Chubb, a poet who, out of sorts with the literary establishment, decides to invent Bob McCorkle, an unknown genius of a poet, together with McCorkle’s unpublished works. The hoax misfires, however, when McCorkle, hitherto a figment of Chubb’s imagination, now begins to stumble forth into the real world, seven foot tall, dressed in black, bereft of personal history and filled with loathing for his creator.
Without a doubt a brilliant idea for a novel. But the execution of the narrative doesn’t live up to the initial promise.
Carey’s wit is in tact, and there’s nothing wrong with his writing; the guy knows how to turn a sentence. But the waters are muddied by a host of different narrators, multiple framing devices, leaps in time and space, and a journey through Malaysia which has little to do with the central thrust of the story.
In addition I found myself with little empathy for the characters or their plights, and by the end of the narrative I was grateful to be relieved of more of the same.