Herbert Badgery, the narrator of Illywhacker and the patriarch of its three generations of Badgerys, claims at the outset of the novel that he is 139 years old. He also boasts that he is an inveterate liar. Illywhacker is the memoirs of this aged, but not too aged, mendicant. He describes a life of wandering about southeastern Australia, from adventure to adventure, from fib to fib.
The rambling style of his six hundred pages of reminiscence, tall tale after tall tale grafted onto other tall tales, matches the style of his life. His story begins in the early days of air travel. He ditches his unpredictable aircraft in a paddock near a church parking lot, where Phoebe McGrath and her parents have imagined that they are safely picnicking. Jumping from the plane, Herbert captures a deadly brown snake that threatens to bite him. When Phoebe asks why he has the snake in his hands, the only likely explanation he can quickly muster is an out-and-out fib: he says that it is a pet. The snake wriggles its way in and out of the narrative for many pages until, after Herbert has broken the family’s trust by dallying amorously with Phoebe on the roof of the McGraths’ farmhouse, the snake takes Phoebe’s father’s life; rather, he commits suicide with it.
This episode typifies, although it greatly simplifies, the complex, convoluted, comic style of Herbert’s narrative. It also presents the kinds of thematic materials on which he will stitch...
(The entire section is 604 words.)