Illywhacker

“My son had a great store of affection he could not give to people properly; he just didn’t have the knack. He could not hug his little sister without awkwardness, but when he confronted this steel-beaked bird his affection issued from him readily, like a net, a finely knotted gauze which the bird felt and stayed still to accept.” — Peter Carey, Illywhacker

Another boat read was Illywhacker, by Peter Carey. I had it sitting in my book pile since my Australia trip in 2008, borrowed from Kerrie Mengersen, and I had never found the opportunity to start it… So much the loss for me! It is indeed an incredible book, a tour de force, a … Something clearly unique, a sort of the Budenbrooks meet Grapes of wrath, a family saga with an extra-dose of epic, a side dish of magical allegory, at least two servings of lies, an undercurrent of unlikely sex scenes, a kaleidoscope of unique characters, a strong flavouring of political criticisms, and, above all, the love of the land and of its inhabitants (except for the aborigenes who are conspicuously missing from the array of characters).

“The autumn rain had turned the landscape green but at six in the evening it was laid over with a rich golden mist; the farmer’s sheep looked like splendid creatures, not the daggy-bummed animals Jack McGrath loathed.” — Peter Carey, Illywhacker

Illywhacker could serve as a history book of 20th century Australia, in its description of the way the origins of its inhabitants melted into a feeling of a nation, against England and not so much against America, not without ambiguities, either, as . In that sense, it also reminded me of Rushdie’s Midnight children. The style is very unique as well, flowing back and forth between the characters and giving them a very strong reality. (In case you wonder, an illywhacker is a small-time confidence trickster or seller of trinkets, in association with the verb “to whack the illy”.) I also like the depiction of the political climate of the 30’s, communists being apparently persecuted in Australia as they were in the US. A must-read!

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