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The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith [Paperback]

Peter Carey
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 23 1996
The Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and The Tax Inspector now gives readers a hero, the malformed but ferociously wilful Tristan Smith, who becomes the object of the world's byzantine political intrigues, even as he attains stardom in a bizarre Sirkus that is part passion play and part Mortal Kombat.

Product Details

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Australian novelist Carey presents an extravagantly picaresque tale of a vaguely futuristic and very bizarre world.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Carey creates a fully realized parallel universe in this unusual novel set in Efica, an island nation under the political and cultural domination of the larger Voorstand. Part Bildungsroman, part political allegory, and part meditation on identity, this novel traces the first 23 years of Tristan, its eponymous narrator, a hideously deformed dwarf and son of actress Felicity Smith (the head of a radical theater company and champion of Efican culture). In the novel's first half, Tristan tells of his early adventures with the company, culminating with Felicity's fatal foray into politics. In the second, he recounts his later travels in Voorstand in search of Bill Millefleur, an actor he believes to be his father. This inventive, multilayered work should only add to Carey's already considerable reputation. Highly recommended.
Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Pathos, poignant, wrenching, and hopeful June 18 2001
This remarkable book defines new territory between literary fiction and science fiction. It offers up a ringside seat to broad, concentric human and political themes that are likely to ring true many decades hence. The plot intricacies are tight, verging on being too clever, but Carey manages to lean towards the believable, producing a provocative and original book. I did not find the foreign words distracting or difficult, as did some readers. I think knowing more than one language helps. But don't let it deter you; Carey provides a glossary and footnotes to aid you in understanding the story.
The main character, Tristan Smith, has an unusual voice, not just in the physical sense, but in the sense of being the story-teller of not only the events he experienced, but also those he didn't, or was too young to remember. One cannot help but think him impulsive, willful, egotistical. It would be easy to dislike him, yet Carey must have realized Tristan's 'voice' could not have been otherwise, for he was both pampered and neglected and sheltered from normal human contact, an upbringing that protected him, on the one hand, but also impeded him socially, on the other. The reader will also appreciate the irony of a man's true character being glimpsed only when he wears a mask, and the truism that a nation's character is revealed by how they treat 'the least of these, my people.'
In contrast to Carey's book, we get a pretty steady diet of stories about handicapped people who triumph over impossible odds, who experience 'miracle healings,' who attain a magical status, who project what we want to see, that is, they appear to be happy because they are shunned if they honestly share their pain as well as their triumphs. Thus, I believe it took real courage to write and publish this book.
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Carey has a gift for establishing an intriguing and somehow "believable" albeit fictitious environment, and I really appreciated some of the smaller, intimate sections between characters (with the exception of our boy Tristan Smith). Carey's almost on to some intrinsic quality of human nature, something very promising... and never quite delivers. Tristan himself is agonizingly bland; freakish, monstrous, petulant, and somehow simultaneously aware of it all, he still doesn't move the reader to either like or dislike him. I found myself not pitying Tristan, nor rallying behind him, so much as wishing he would quietly go elsewhere and let the other much more interesting characters take up the story. The majority of the book is delivered through Tristan's oddly flat and sterile remembrance of his childhood. I couldn't help but think of Herbert's Dune and the characters' weird abilities to somehow remember experiences of their parents while they were in utero. While Herbert pulls off the unusual device, Carey's sickly little Tristan has a narrative tone that is nothing short of odd, uncomfortable, and actually quite boring. The Sirkus is another disappointment; Tristan's muted recall dampens even the highlight of the book. Better to have written a fictitious tale of Australia, with "normal" people committing monstrous acts than use a monstrosity himself to banally reflect upon social unease. Tristan Smith is unusual; his life is not, and the difference breaks the book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not Carey's best Aug. 15 2002
Oscar and Lucinda is one of my all-time favourite books. When I picked up this one, I expected a similar style of writing. Maybe it's because the world Carey has created here is too detached from my own familiarity that I could not fully relate to the characters. I must admit, however, that Carey's writing does make the reader feel. I had an eery feeling towards the protagonist throughout, but could never sympathize with him. I see in the reviews from others that perhaps this book is best left to Australians who understand something of where Carey is coming from. Usually, I would say that good writing and a good story can cross any cultural boundaries, but maybe this book IS best left to the Aussies. (Even though it's probably arguable that Canada's relationship to the American cultural "superpower" is/isn't similar to Australia's relationship to the US.)
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1.0 out of 5 stars Another over-rated work by Carey March 20 2001
By A Customer
Peter Carey, since the publication of his first novel, has been constantly over-rated by critics. This novel is the greatest example of his true inability as an author/artist. The story-line is at best lame, with Carey foreshadowing any twists in the plot miles in advance. It is, of course, an attempt at satire, however he over reaches himself yet again. And yet again, because he uses a new language and is supposedly being clever, critics fawn madly over his talent and equate him with Dickens. Please. Carey is perhaps the best "first page" writer in the world, but unfortunately his novels go for much longer. Avoid this novel.
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