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My Life as a Fake, Peter Carey (2003)

A pleasant enough novel which takes the story of the Ern Malley hoax and spins out its logical, however impossible, consequence: the fictitious poet brought to “life” by the hoaxers actually comes to Life. This of course opens up lots of room for asking puckish questions about authors, authority, authorship, etc., and it’s fun enough to watch Carey ask them. But the real joy here is the rare and weird thrill of seeing “poetry” occupy the position of the object of desire. The novel’s macguffin is a set of poems that the narrator, an editor of a literary magazine, is desperate to publish but can’t get her hands on. Imagine! All these characters running around getting all exercised not about the jewels of Topkapi or an atomic bomb concealed in an umbrella or a chance to sleep with Kate Hudson but about poetry! “It slashed and stabbed its way across the page, at once familiar and alien . . . my heart was beating very fast indeed.” As is mine, as is mine! Carey has the great good sense not to show us the poem itself in this early scene where the cynical editor swoons over the lines she’s shown; any actual verbiage would be an anticlimax. Which in fact leads to a pet theory of mine. I know certain segments of the culture are in love with the idea of poetry, the way it slashes and stabs its way across the page and all that, but honestly: is there really any need for the stuff itself? Seems to me that if the poets were to moon about their garrets with rapturous looks on their faces for a few hours each day (or week, or semester), and those who fancy themselves poetry lovers could just peek in at the poets from time to time (perhaps by webcam?) to verify that indeed exquisite torments of soul were taking place, everyone would be a winner: the poets wouldn’t have to go to the bother of actually producing poems, the lovers wouldn’t have to pretend to enjoy reading them, but everyone could still feel that something beautiful and ineffable was taking place. Everyone wins! And think of the savings in paper and ink!

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  1. Oh *Joel.* I give not two jots for swoons and deep thoughts, but you know I’d walk a country mile for a poem of yours any day.I have tried, tried, tried, to like Peter Carey. There are so many reasons I should! Sometimes I kind of even do; but he’s such a weirdo. There comes a point in each novel when I step back and say, I don’t actually know what the hell is going on here.

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