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3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,147 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
In Australian slang, an illywhacker is a country fair con man, an unprincipled seller of fake diamonds and dubious tonics. And Herbert Badgery, the 139-year-old narrator of Peter Carey's uproarious novel, may be the king of them all. Vagabond and charlatan, aviator and car salesman, seducer and patriarch, Badgery is a walking embodiment of the Australian national character ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published April 30th 1996 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1985)
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Mitchell Badgery goes off to town or something and leaves the kids at camp near Clunes. The son is not paying attention to Sonia, and she is practising the…moreBadgery goes off to town or something and leaves the kids at camp near Clunes. The son is not paying attention to Sonia, and she is practising the invisibility trick, and when he looks up one moment she has disappeared; he is amazed because he thinks she has suddenly mastered the invisibility trick. But:

"Clunes, in case you do not know it,is bored full of mineshafts." (She dies.)(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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G'day, g'day!
How ya going?
What do you know!
Well, strike a light!
G'day, g'day,
And how ya go-o-oing?
Just say g'day, g'day, g'day,
And you'll be right!

—Slim Dusty

This is a novel about Australia: the souvenir-shop image of Slim Dusty records and tourist posters, and the romantic but gritty reality that underlies it. It is about how to separate the two: how to celebrate your own history without turning it into a cartoon or a travesty. It is, in short, about ‘the problems of belief and principle’ faced
Will Dean
Feb 04, 2012 Will Dean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I tried thinking of a couple of clever ways to start this review, then I remembered this is just a personal internet thing. I loved this book and here's why.

Sometimes you just want to hear a great, rollicking, absurd yarn of a story that makes the elements of life seem larger and more important than they really are while still retaining a bittersweet sense of the transient nature of all things. Maybe it's hard to find books like that (it is) but this is one like that.

Illywhacker is the story of
Nov 10, 2009 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2009
Boy, it's been kind of gloomy around here recently, hasn't it? What with unanticipated abridgments, disorganized Englishmen, and lukewarm responses to historical fiction, things have looked rosier. But here, my friends, is the antidote: Peter Carey's rollicking Australian epic Illywhacker is robust and uproarious - a chewy, stew-like story you can really sink your teeth into, and which also offers a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of lying and the truth.

I've written before about how
May 08, 2008 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone and everyone
Shelves: fiction
Savour every page in this tour-de-force by Australia's finest Booker prizewinner. It's not just 139 year-old Herbert Badgery's outlandish shaggy dog stories on women, aviation and the outback, it's not just the people and places that spring vibrantly from the page, it is the beauty of Carey's craftsmanship, his perfectly-proscribed prose and lovingly-nurtured descriptions that make this novel such a pleasure to read. Enjoy the ride of each and every chapter in what would be an overworked storyli ...more
May 24, 2014 Mkfs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who know The Outback is not a steakhouse
Is this The Great Australian Novel?

Perhaps it's a bit too playful to aspire to such pretensions, but nonetheless it is an admirable attempt.

The book is often catagorized as magical realism, due largely to events that could be (and probably are) entirely fabrications of the narrator: a disappearing act, an alleged Chinese sorcerer, and a mysterious Vegemite jar containing either shape-shifting matter or a rotting body part. Don't be dissuaded: there may be some tall tales told, and a fair amount
May 24, 2009 Tracey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2009, australian
Okay, I enjoyed this book, I liked the characters but as read further into the novel, I found myself wanting more of Herbert Badgery's story. About three quarters of the way, I get bogged into a whole heap of characters that I neither cared about or want to know. I was intrigued by Herbert and I found this massive slab of his story just disappeared as I was taken along to the story about his son and then grandson.
Parts of the book moved into the surreal with people living in cages and just deca
Aug 04, 2009 Chip rated it did not like it
My copy of this book was a gift, and I was suckered in by the adjective "funny" from the review on the cover. Intrigued, I read all the glowing reviews from the "big name" periodicals and prepared myself for one amazing read. By the first hundred pages, as I got familiar with the protagonist and the author's style, I began to wonder if I had been flim-flammed. I have to admit my first thought, upon finishing the book, was that this may have been the biggest waste of reading effort I have ever pu ...more
Nov 03, 2014 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
I wish I could give this book a half star; for me, it hovers somewhere between 3 and 4.

"Illywhacker" was remarkable because of the incredible dexterity with which Carey handles his prose. In the first half of the book, Carey manages to shift narrative perspectives, discard his narrators again and again, and jump around in time without disorienting the reader at all. His descriptions of characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and interesting. The first half of "Illywhacker" was essentially a manu
Jun 18, 2009 Geoff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ah, remember when books were important! And very very long. This teeming Dickensian Sydney, plonked in a Patrick White desert, was thrust at me by a wild-eyed enthusiast in 1985, shortly after it became the novel that should have won the Booker that year. I took one look at the size of the thing and decided to wait till I was more grown up - in my case another 24 years. To anyone who remembers the 80s it seems dated now by the fashions of the decade (Magic Realism, Wow!) though this effect will ...more
Mar 21, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
This novel is about Australia. Not just things that happened there, or people who lived there, but the place itself. It is narrated by Herbert Badgery who lives to be 139. However, Herbert spends very little time talking about himself and his own life - the book is mainly about the people he meets and lives with during his long life - friends, family, lovers, adversaries, etc. He delves into their characters, their histories, and their lives with near-omniscience. The characters are the most imp ...more
Mar 21, 2013 Deanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comedy
Loved this more than I thought I would, the characters seem larger than life and it's easy to fall for the scatty bunch. Would love to have grown up in a pet shop, though I'd prefer to have a room not a cage.
It's a big book but it does have to cover Herbert's long life, 139 years and counting. He's a liar something he tells you from the start of his narration, but he's a loveable rogue.
ILLYWHACKER. (1985). Peter Carey. ***.
This is a 600-page epic novel from this Australian author that has been described as “funny,” “devious,” and “bitterly insightful.” It is all of those, but could have been even better if an astute editor had trimmed about 200 pages from it. It is epic in the style of Tom Jones. The main character, the “illywhacker” of the title (Wait! I should mention that “illywhacker” is Australian slang for a trickster or confidence man.) is Herbert Badgery, who, at the
Jul 31, 2013 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Peter Carey is a fabulous writer, and any book he writes is likely to be worth reading just for the luscious, brilliantly observant, surprising prose and the Dickensian characters. Having gotten that out of the way, I have to say that I was left disappointed by Illywhacker. Clearly it's designed to be a rambling, picaresque story (reviewers mention Tom Jones as a cousin of this book), and it does a marvelous job for the first half or so, which focuses on the roguish con man/narrator Herbert Badg ...more
Vit Babenco
Aug 20, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where do all the strange ones go? They’re looking for other oddballs who can match them in their wackiness and keep them company.
“It is my belief that there are few things in this world more useful than a hessian bag, and no matter what part of my story I wish to reflect on I find that a hessian bag, or the lack of one, assumes some importance. They soften the edge of a hard bench, can be split open to line a wall, can provide a blanket for a cold night, a safe container for a snake, a rabbit, o
David James

Carey, Peter. Illywhacker

From the outset the reader is aware that he is being led on by a con-man, for Carey makes it plain on the cover that his narrator, Herbert Badgery ‘is a terrible liar and always has been.’ Moreover in the novel’s epigraph Carey cites dictionary definitions of the Australian word ‘Illywhacker’ indicating its meaning as variously ‘professional trickster,’ ‘trickster or spieler,’ ‘one who wacks the illy,’ ‘peter tickler’ and ‘eeler spee.’ So the book craves wary walking. Th
J.L. Whitaker
Dec 01, 2014 J.L. Whitaker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is filled with crazy characters whose lives are told by a biographical narrator who admits from the very beginning that he is a liar. If any writer were looking for an example of an unreliable narrator, this is the one. I kept thinking he was going to be dead sometime before the end, but Carey managed to avoid that 'fatal' error of first person writing.

Set in Australia, starting in the early 20th century and progressing through to some ambiguous time much later, Illywhacker tells the s
Nov 10, 2015 Alpharius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here are some reviews by the press that sum up my feelings:

'A great tottering tower of a novel which stands up astonishingly well against all the odds" - Victoria Glendinning, The Sunday Times.
'A book of awesome breadth, ambition... Illywhacker is a triumph' - Geoffrey Dutton, The Bulletin.

As an Australian, I must admit that Peter Carey is one of our finest living Australian authors. His imagination, his narrative power, the way he imbues life into his characters, the cracking prose - he's the r
Jan 18, 2015 Michele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wonder if I'd read this novel in a different and place, would it still hold its charm. I'd like to think yes, despite the endless loose threads and too many passing characters. But there's sense to quite a bit of this. Having grandparents born in Melbourne, having a few generations of family growing up in Bendigo and having seen the oddity of a culture overtly proud of making its own stamp in the geographic middle of nowhere, you have to get it. Australia either pokes fun at its own history a ...more
Mar 09, 2012 Neil rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm clearly in a minority, but I find Carey too self-obsessed...and the sense that he's trying too hard makes it difficult for me to get involved with his work. I've tried, I honestly have, because so many of my Aussie friends like his stuff.
Ian Reid
Sep 07, 2014 Ian Reid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peter Carey’s books all delight in playing textual confidence tricks that lead us as happy dupes up the strangest garden paths. What we find on the way is seldom what the story seemed initially to promise – but it’s more, not less, than we expected. In none of his other books is this more mischievously developed than in Illywhacker, a whopper story that implicates his own crafty fictioneering.
It’s unflagging in its comic inventiveness, conjuring a world where anything can happen and almost every
Apr 22, 2011 Gerald rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I want to like Peter Carey, seems I should, kindred spirit and all that, but so far I am not enlisted.
Jun 20, 2008 Joan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb. Carey's finest work. The history of Australia distilled into one character.
Lynne Norman
I have absolutely no idea how to begin with reviewing this book, or even summarising it. It's like nothing I've ever read before - and I'm still trying to decide whether that's a good thing or not. Here are some things I do know... 1) I love an unreliable narrator, and Herbert Badgery is perhaps the most lovable and yet unreliable narrator I have ever met in a book. 2) Even if I have no idea what's going on, what's expected of me as a reader and how I should respond, I still find great enjoyment ...more
Aug 21, 2015 Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Because I didn’t like Bliss, I skipped ahead to Peter Carey’s first Booker Prize winner, Oscar and Lucinda, which I found to be excellent. So I was pleasantly surprised to go back to Illywhacker, Carey’s second novel (and the first nominated for a Booker) to find that it was also an excellent work – a funny, tragic, picaresque epic.

Herbert Badgery, Illywhacker’s protagonist and omniscient narrator, begins the novel by announcing that he is “a hundred and thirty-nine years old… and a terrible lia
I love Peter Carey's novels. Although I frequently go on binges of voracious consumption of historical mysteries, and enjoy them, they are like a meal of popcorn. I know they are lesser fiction and they don't fill me up. Peter Carey's writing does. Even those of his novels that I enjoy less, which for me includes one of his most famous, Oscar and Lucinda, use language in a way that delights me. His characters are always vibrant.

To me, Carey's books are not generally about a plot. They are inste
Dec 15, 2012 Joe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was excited to read Illywhacker from the raves on the book jacket calling it funny, farcical and entertaining. When all is said and done, the book has some memorable characters and some humorous parts but it really doesn't live up to the grand praise. The story follows Herbert Badgery, an Austrailian con man (or Illywhacker) who right from the start claims to be a tremendous liar and also 139 years old. A great premise to start with. The novel picks up Herbert's tale in the early 1900's when h ...more
Jim Leckband
Feb 25, 2013 Jim Leckband rated it liked it
This novel is about Australia. And that is like saying that Macbeth is a play about a dysfunctional marriage. The main character, Herbert Badgery, is the Illywhacker - a con man/liar/trickster figure. However, he really isn't as bad or as funny as I wanted. But what I was anticipating wasn't the novel Carey was writing. He didn't want the novel to be purely a picaresque, Down Under Tom Jones.

Herbert Badgery is rather a conglomeration of aspects of the home grown Australian. In his exploits to fa
Anna Kennedy
Jan 09, 2013 Anna Kennedy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh I so wanted to love this book, I have picked it up so many times over the years and promised myself that I would get through it one day. I cannot disagree with anyone who has reviewed it as a masterpiece of prose, as always I am in awe of authors who can produce this many words of such dizzying proportions and depths ... but oh God by the end I was praying for the relief of the last page. On reading the first few pages and the back sleeve I had been ready for a long novel of hilarious anecdot ...more
C.C. Hogan
May 11, 2013 C.C. Hogan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to C.C. by: Peter Carey
In a former life, I recorded an interview with Peter Carey as he talked about his nominated book, Illiwhacker back in 1985. Peter was a dry humoured, wry man and it was a most enjoyable recording session - reading the book was a must.

The book is, of course, a lie. It is not just that the main character, Herbert Badgery is a liar and conman, nor is it simply that he spends much of the narrative lying like crazy to get his own way, not always with much success.

But by the end of the book, you reali
First sentence: "My name is Herbert Badgery."

P. 99: "Molly McGrath whimpered and curled her fifty-year old body into a shaking ball beneath the sheets."

Last sentence: "It will give him strength for the interesting times ahead."

From the author's website: In Australian slang, an Illywhacker is a country fair con man, an unprincipled seller of fake diamonds and dubious tonics. And Herbert Badgery, the 139-year-old narrator of Peter Carey's uproarious novel, may be the king of them all. Vagabond an
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Peter Carey was born in Australia in 1943.

He was educated at the local state school until the age of eleven and then became a boarder at Geelong Grammar School. He was a student there between 1954 and 1960 — after Rupert Murdoch had graduated and before Prince Charles arriv
More about Peter Carey...

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“Charles loved her voice. It was so soft and blurred, like pastels. It made his neck tingle just to listen to her. It gave him the same delicious feeling he had as he hovered on the brink of sleep and this feeling - until now - had been the single most pleasant feeling in his life. It was the voice that coloured everything he now thought about her. It was shy and tentative and musical. Sometimes he did not manage to hear the words she said, but he did not let on about his deafness.” 6 likes
“My name is Herbert Badgery. I am a hundred and thirty-nine years old and something of a celebrity. They come and look at me and wonder how I do it. There are weeks when I wonder the same, whole stretches of terrible time. It is hard to believe you can feel so bad and still not die.” 6 likes
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