Tuesday, July 28, 2009

157. Jack Maggs – Peter Carey

History: Published in 1997.
Plot: The story centres around Jack Maggs (the equivalent of Magwitch) and his quest to meet his 'son' Henry Phipps (the equivalent of Pip). He is aided in this by the novelist Tobias Oates (a thinly disguised Charles Dickens), who associates with the mischievous Jack Maggs in order to draw inspiration for his forthcoming novel which he desperately needs to produce because of his lack of money.
Review: A character study taken from Charles Dickens character in Great Expectations, and the adventures he falls into when he tries to recover the relationship with his son. I thought it was weird and disjointed, but I did like the idea of continuing that character.
Peter Carey's Jack Maggs is cleverly plotted and ingeniously peopled but also a bit pointless. This book never quite grabbed my attention. It has colorful, complex, evolving characters in a vibrant setting. It's written well. It has a most definite plot (indeed, several of them). It even says plenty of interesting things, not only about Great Expectations--which it inverts in many particulars--but also about the corrupting influence of jealousy, the artist as a thief of others' lives, the nature of human decency, and love. I guess I never bought the central relationship of the novel, which is Maggs's bond (or imagined bond) with Phipps. That relationship was very affecting in Great Expectations, but Carey doesn't seem to have gone through the effort of reestablishing the basis for Maggs's obsession here. Indeed, this may be a more general objection: for all the color in Jack Maggs's characters, their relationships seem pretty pallid, so that when those relationships founder or break or succeed it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. The story, too, while full of action, seems half-hearted. People did stuff; stuff happened; I yawned.
Opening Line: “It was a Saturday night when the man with the red waistcoat arrived in London.”
Closing Line: “The Michell’s librarian has noted on each index card the “v. rough excision” of that page which reads: Afectionately Inscribed to PERCIVAL CLARENCE BUCKLE A Man of letters, a Patron of the Arts.”
Quotes: “His heavy limbs bled into the darkness and as the clock ticked loudly in the downstairs hallway, he seemed to flow from room to room as slow as a moon-made shadow.”
Rating: Okay.

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