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True History of the Kelly Gang [School & Library Binding]

Peter Carey
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 2001
The international bestseller and winner of the 2001 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book.

Out of 19th century Australia rides a hero of his people and a man for all nations: Ned Kelly, the son of poor Irish immigrants, viewed by the authorities as a thief (especially of horses) and, as a cold-blooded killer. To the people, though, he was a patriot hounded unfairly by rich English landlords and their stooges. In the end, Kelly and his so-called gang (his younger brother and two friends) led a massive police manhunt on a wild goose chase that lasted twenty months, in which Ned’s talents as a bushman were augmented by bank robberies and the support of nearly everyone not in a uniform. His one demand – for which he would have surrendered himself was his jailed mother’s freedom.

Executed by hanging more than a century ago, speaking as if from the grave, Kelly still resonates as the most potent legend in the land down under.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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"What is it about we Australians, eh?" demands a schoolteacher near the end of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. "Do we not have a Jefferson? A Disraeli? Might not we find someone better to admire than a horse-thief and a murderer?" It's the author's sole nod to the contradictory feelings Ned Kelly continues to evoke today, more than a century after his death. A psychopathic killer to some, a crusading folk hero to others, Kelly was a sharpshooting outlaw who eluded a brutal police manhunt for nearly two years. For better or worse, he's now a part of the Australian national myth. Indeed, the opening ceremonies for the Sydney Olympics featured an army of Ned Kellys dancing about to Irish music, which puts him in the symbolic company of both kangaroos and Olivia Newton-John.

What's to be gained from telling this illiterate bushranger's story yet again? Quite a lot, as it turns out. For starters, there is the remarkable vernacular poetry of Carey's narrative voice. Fierce, funny, ungrammatical, steeped in Irish legends and the frontier's moral code, this voice is the novel's great achievement--and perhaps the greatest in Carey's distinguished career. It paints a vivid picture of an Australia where English landowners skim off the country's best territory while government land grants allow the settlers just enough acreage to starve. Cheated, lied to, and persecuted by the authorities at every opportunity, young Kelly retains no faith in his colonial masters. What he does trust, oddly, is the power of words:

And here is the thing about them men they was Australians they knew full well the terror of the unyielding law the historic memory of UNFAIRNESS were in their blood and a man might be a bank clerk or an overseer he might never have been lagged for nothing but still he knew in his heart what it were to be forced to wear the white hood in prison he knew what it were to be lashed for looking a warder in the eye ... so the knowledge of unfairness were deep in his bone and in his marrow.
Ned Kelly as literary hero? Strangely enough, that's what he becomes, at least in Carey's rendering. Pouring his heart out in a series of letters to the country at large, Kelly wants nothing more than to be heard--and for the dirt-poor son of an Irish convict, that's an audacious ambition indeed. It's not so surprising, then, that his story continues to speak to Australians. Like all colonial countries, Australia was built at a steep human price, and the memory of all those silenced voices lives on. True History of the Kelly Gang takes its epigraph from Faulkner: "The past is not dead. It is not even past." And like Faulkner's own vast chronicle of dispossession, it's haunted by tragedies as large as history itself. --Mary Park --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Every Australian grows up hearing the legend of outlaw Ned Kelly, whose exploits are memorialized in the old Melbourne Gaol, where he and his comrades were imprisoned before their execution in 1880. Carey's inspired "history" of Kelly from his destitute youth until his death at age 26 is as genuine as a diamond in the rough. No reader will be left unmoved by this dramatic tale of an instinctively good-hearted young man whose destiny, in Carey's revisionist point of view, was determined by heredity on one side and official bigotry and corruption on the other; whose criminal deeds were motivated by gallantry and desperation; and whose exploits in eluding the police for almost two years transfixed a nation and made him a popular hero. The unschooled Kelly narrates through a series of letters he writes to the baby daughter he will never see. Conveyed in run-on sentences, with sparse punctuation and quirky grammar enriched by pungent vernacular and the polite use of euphemisms for what Kelly calls "rough expressions" ("It were eff this and ess that"; "It were too adjectival hot"), Kelly's voice is mesmerizing as he relates the events that earned him a reputation as a horse thief and murderer. Through Ned's laconic observations, Carey creates a textured picture of Australian society when the British ruling class despised the Irish, and both the police and the justice system were thoroughly corrupt. Harassed, slandered, provoked and jailed with impunity, the Kellys, led by indomitable, amoral matriarch Ellen, believe they have no recourse but to break the law. Ned is initially reluctant; throughout his life, his criminal activities are an attempt to win his mother's love and approval. Ellen is a monster of selfishness and treachery. She betrays her son time and again, yet he adores her with Irish sentimentality and forfeits his chance to escape the country by pledging to surrender if the authorities will release her from jail. This is in essence an adventure saga, with numerous descriptions of the wild and forbidding Australian landscape, shocking surprises, coldhearted villains who hail from the top and the bottom of the social ladder and a tender love story. Carey (Booker Prize-winner Oscar and Lucinda) deserves to be lionized in his native land for this triumphant historical recreation, and he will undoubtedly win a worldwide readership for a novel that teems with energy, suspense and the true story of a memorable protagonist. 75,000 first printing. (Jan. 16)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book on Australian bandit's life June 19 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a book that I've recommended to a number of friends and family. It's a really great read. First, Mr. Carey has adopted the lyrical, unpunctuated style that Ned Kelly used and the same vernacular of the early Australian immigrants Second, the story of the Kelly family and the brutal, unfair conditions of life for the forced immigrants makes for an important and compelling story. The True History of the Kelly Gang is mainly a depressing tale, but there are moments of genuine humor and humanity. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pride and prejudice down-under May 25 2002
Format:Paperback
I knew nothing of this famous gang since I am from the US and I've never stduied Aussie outlaw history. Could the Kelley Gang have been in the US? England? South Africa? Yes, I think so- many of the conditions that led to this gang seem to be universal. Ned kelley's Irish family were put-down, locked-up and thrown-around by tyranical law enforcement gangs because, well, because they were Irish.
Ned Kelley lashes back at the law with fists, guns and armour. His Irish family is treated by the "adjectival" authority with disdain bordering on obsessive hatred. Taught by the notorious bushranger Harry Power, Ned learns young to run, think and fire fast and first and ask questions later.
The body count is high, morality low and yet the human spirit remains intact as Ned's love for his Mother and girlfriend (later to be wife) provide motivation that rises above loathing and eye for an eye rationale.
I do enjoy Peter Carey's books. If you do too, I highly recommend "Jack Maggs".
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4.0 out of 5 stars Almost a true story May 1 2002
Format:Paperback
A well-told story that loses points for some historical inaccuracies, and some outright untruths. The Mary Hearn character is fictitious, but just how many of the others are?
One untruth would be the part where Harry Power decapitates a crow that "happened to be" near a stagecoach hold up. If Harry had just recently fired his rifle, any crow I've had experience with would have been at least a kilometer away a minute later.
Ned Kelly, with a Catholic background, would surely have been referring to the *fifth* commandment, not the sixth when murder was being mentioned. The reader has been tolerating the lack of punctuation because it sounds more "authentic", but such inaccuracies tend to squander the authenticity of the language that has built up.
I particularly liked the description of the reflection of the fire in the eyes of the terrified cattle, but Peter Carey confuses American terms for Australian ones on occasions, though he does remember chooks. With a bit more proof reading, it would have been that much better still.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Made Noble in the Fire April 11 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I've heard people describe Peter Carey as "the Cormac McCarthy of Australia" when they are referring to this novel. Although that's unfair to both Carey and McCarthy, it did get me to read this book. And, I did find that Carey was something like McCarthy in that he is able to tell what is essentially an "outlaw" story and make is sound more like a myth.
I don't know anything of Ned Kelly other than what I read in this book, but in "The True History of the Kelly Gang," at least, Ned Kelly seems not so much outlaw as rogue, more like Robin Hood than Billy the Kid. This is a book with all the cruelty, murder and barbarism of McCarthy's books, yet "The True History of the Kelly Gang" seems to have a strain of likable sentimentality as well. I liked Ned Kelly and I liked this book.
I've read, of course, that despite this book having been written in the first person, Ned Kelly did not write it. This is historical fiction, not an autobiographical work, but it's so good, who cares? And, it is based on actual events.
Carey based this book on a letter the real Ned Kelly wrote after robbing a bank. The book (history) is ostensibly written by Kelly to his daughter so she would always know the truth about her father, both the good and the bad, rather than having to rely on folk tales and rumor.
"The True History of the Kelly Gang" has an episodic feel to it, since, rather than being conventionally plotted, adventure is piled upon adventure upon adventure. There's not a lot of humor in this book and not much self-reflection; self-reflection from one such as Ned Kelly might have seemed absurd. If you think about it long enough, the very idea of Ned Kelly writing his memoirs seems absurd, but just don't think about it too much. Enjoy the book instead.
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Format:Paperback
This book chronicles Ned Kelly, an Austrailian folk hero similar to Billy the Kid or other American Western criminal heroes. It is told in letters to his young daughter, and the details of his life are revealed episodically through packets of letters written at different times in the last couple of years of his life.
The characters are very well drawn, and the reader gets to know Kelly's friends (hardly a gang as it's told here), his family, and the racist, money-grubbing, establishment bad guys that ruin his life. Of course, there are many detours along the way, but what it finally becomes is a well-written, human portrait of a misunderstood killer. This will probably make a good shoot-em-up action movie.
As entertaining as this book becomes, I found it a bit slow at the start, and also at some points in the middle stages of the narrative. Overall, though, it is worth reading. Having read most of the other books on the Booker Prize short list, however, I'd say this is the weakest of the group ... if you're looking for deep literature, you'd be better off going to Atonement by Ian McEwan. If you're looking for a reasonable adventure story with interesting characters, then The True History of the Kelly Gang will suit you just fine.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A really good historical novel, a little surprising it won a Booker
That pretty much sums it up. The novel is narrated by Kelly in poorly punctuated fashion. Surprise! Kelly thinks he's a hero. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2010 by Rodge
2.0 out of 5 stars I'll let you in on a little secret...
Carey's actually not a very good author, and this actually isn't a very good book. If you really feel that you absolutely *MUST* read something about Ned Kelly, then erase those... Read more
Published on June 19 2003 by "writing_static"
2.0 out of 5 stars Can anyone help?
I have been reading this book for months but still could not finish it. The reason is very simple. I find it hard to understand and comprehen the writing style in particular the... Read more
Published on May 2 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother
This was simply terrible, a slow drawn out book, literary style was suppose to intrigue you but instead bored the tears out of me. Read more
Published on April 23 2002 by "martinkearns"
3.0 out of 5 stars O.K - but not prize material
I really didn't care if he lived or died, I just wanted the book to finally end.
Published on April 14 2002 by plum9195
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, brilliant book
Peter Carey is truly amazing. What a wonderful, extraordinary novel this is. This is by far his best work. Read more
Published on April 1 2002 by Leigh Munro
5.0 out of 5 stars The "diary" of the outlaw Ned Kelly
In this Booker Prize winning historical novel set in late nineteenth century Australia, the outlaw Ned Kelly is brought to life in his own words. Read more
Published on March 24 2002 by D. Bakken
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Like an actor who "becomes" a character, author Peter Carey "becomes " Ned Kelley in this brilliant fictional autobiography. Read more
Published on March 20 2002 by Richard E. Hourula
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