Saturday, April 5, 2008

His Illegal Self

His Illegal Self, by Peter Carey
$16.47 in the Hansisgreat Store
ISBN: 978-0-307-26372-8
The main character in this very unusual new novel is a precocious seven-year-old boy named Che Selkirk. Named after the controversial Cuban revolutionary and then abandoned by his renegade parents, Che is raised by his wealthy dowager grandmother in New York City.
At the beginning of the story, Che meets his mother. At least she says she's his mother. She whisks the little boy away from his grandmother and takes him out to lunch. Soon the two of them are on the road together.
The woman's name is Dial, and she's a bit of a dingbat who's on the run from the law. Her flight takes them to the undesirable Greyhound Bus Station in Philadelphia (I've been there. He's right, it's a dump). "Wait here in the lobby, baby. I have to make a couple of phone calls."
At first, Che seems to be enjoying their adventures through back alleys and seedy motels. He's convinced that Dial is his mother, although she's never said so; and he's utterly in love with his new mommy. She's even given him a kitten to play with, a little darling called Buck whom Che keeps in his pocket during their travels.
Events take a peculiar turn when she takes him to a hippie commune in the remote outback of Queensland, Australia. Filthy urchins with ragged clothes and rotten teeth, occupying hovels with no electricity or running water. All counter-cultural revolutionaries, hiding out from the FBI for God knows what.
This is not what Che had in mind at all. In fact, he's beginning to feel as if he's been kidnapped, and that Dial might not be his mother at all.
This is problematic, because she's still his only connection to the outside world.
The entire novel is a thrill ride resembling Patty Hearst's abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The presence of a little boy and a kitten in an illegal and squalid settlement at the barren fringes of civilization is bound to produce a few sad moments. Furthermore, no one is certain when the FBI will track the group of outlaws down and drag them off to US prison.
The author is highly respected, and has twice won the prestigious Booker Prize. His Illegal Self is a unique blend of fast-paced complexity and touching sensitivity.
One of the best new books of 2008.


iain said...

I know Australians have a legendary capacity for alcoholic intake, but don't you mean the Booker Prize?

Hansisgreat said...

Oops! I typed "Boozer Prize" by mistake. That's kinda funny, no offense to Mr. Carey or the people of Australia.
Thanks, Iain. Very observant.