An award-winning and highly respected Australian novelist, Peter Carey has written skillfully about characters who must struggle mightily against mainstream society in order to survive. Some of his most memorable characters were created for his Booker Prize-winning novel OSCAR AND LUCINDA (1988). For JACK MAGGS, Carey is no less ambitious in his vivid creation of the character of Jack Maggs. Taking his inspiration from Charles Dickens’ seminal novel GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1860-1861), Carey has adroitly grafted a 1990’s sensibility onto the Victorian time period. As he has done in previous works, Carey has melded elements found in traditional realism into the fantastical world that he has created.
JACK MAGGS opens in a district of London known as Clerkenwell. After being deported to Australia as a convict years earlier, Jack Maggs now has returned to London. He must be ever alert because if the authorities discover that he has returned they will surely hang him. Maggs is willing to risk death in order to meet the young man he has been supporting from Australia, Henry Phipps. While this situation may remind the reader of Dickens’ GREAT EXPECTATIONS, it is really not necessary to be familiar with that novel in order to appreciate what Carey has created. Maggs takes a job as a footman in a household near where Phipps lives. Always desperate to keep his true identity a secret, Maggs encounters a young writer by the name of Tobias Oates who becomes more than curious about the secretive Maggs. Carey takes great care in filling in the details of the childhood tragedies that befell his major characters. At one point in the novel, Oates is able to hypnotize Maggs and learns about Maggs’ criminal past.
In addition to exposing personal secrets, Carey subtly peels away at the various layers that make up the city of London. Without becoming strident, Carey speaks powerfully about how nineteenth century England mistreated its poor and downtrodden.
Sources for Further Study
The Christian Science Monitor. April 8, 1998, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 1, 1998, p. 2.
The Nation. CCLXVI, March 2, 1998, p. 27.
The New York Review of Books. XLV, February 19, 1998, p. 26.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, February 8, 1998, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, December 1, 1997, p. 45.
Time. CLI, February 23, 1998, p. 84.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 12, 1997, p. 8.
The Wall Street Journal. February 4, 1998, p. A20.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, March 15, 1998, p. 1.