His Illegal Self
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His Illegal Self

3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  1,577 ratings  ·  292 reviews
When the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway. No one had told him to expect it. That was pretty typical of growing up with Grandma Selkirk . . . No one would dream of saying, Here is your mother returned to you.

His Illegal Self is the story of Che—raised in isolated priv...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 5th 2008 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2007)
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I was captivated in many ways with this unusual story, often moved in surprising breakthroughs, but for the most part unfulfilled by the mash-up of perspectives and non-linear narrative.

We have a precocious and lonely seven year-old boy, Che, being raised by a wealthy grandmother in New York, who through a confusing series of events, ends up hiding out in a semi-jungle region of northern Queensland, Australia, with his former babysitter/housekeeper, Dial. He’s a real trooper, very resilient. He...more
Molly Jones
Worthy of another Booker prize?
Fascinating with some literary merit?

Carey tells this tale mainly from two characters' perspectives: a boy/son/grandson, Che or Jay, and a mother/kidnapper/revolutionary, Dial or Anna. Confused? Try reading the novel. The prose isn't necessarily dense, but it often demands rereading phrases or sentences in order to interpret what, exactly, is happening in the novel. Carey never uses quotation marks, which, surprisingly, isn't the cause of the confusion. He,...more
Jan 16, 2008 Magdalena rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: just about anyone - it's an easy, fast read, but very well written
Recommended to Magdalena by: I read everything Carey writes!
Che Selkirk is a boy whose parents, members of the increasingly violent Students for a Democratic Society, have both disappeared, leaving him with his very rich grandmother. At the age of eight, a woman that Che recognises as his mother suddenly arrives and kidnaps him, taking him from New York to Australia. This is how the book begins, and Che’s adventure through hunger, love and loss becomes almost a coming of age tale as he starts to understand who he is and where his future lies.

On the simp...more
Peter Carey's usual mix of something a little bit mysterious and criminal, and something ironically funny, His Illegal Self is a great little comical romp involving an inadvertent kidnapping. Che (He insists on being called "Chay" whereas his grandparents call him "Jay") is snatched from his wealthy grapndparents' custody by a friend of his outlaw mother ostensibly for a short visit. When the mother unexpectantly dies, the friend, an Ivy League student from Australia named "Dial", panics and tak...more
Jul 26, 2011 Stuart added it
I gave up on this book. It seems to be one of those books that delights in making it as difficult as possible for the reader to follow the story. First, we have no punctuation marks on the conversations. OK, I can put up with that if I must. Then we have the chapters being told from different viewpoints (the child or “the mother” – who appears not to be the mother) without making that clear. OK, so I can get used to that as well, once I realize what’s going on. But add to that the time-slicing n...more
I am a huge Peter Carey fan - huge. I can't tell you how disappointed I was in this book. I couldn't see the character, I couldn't find the voice, I didn't see the connections, and don't get me to talk about the ending, how predictable. I'm sorry, Peter, but I don't want you to use bits of your old books either!
I will give an extra star to the place they end up living and the grandmother. Both of these are well described and alive, for me.
Barbara Ellison
Peter Carey is one of the few authors whose works I've read in their entirety. I've enjoyed some very much and others were blown away by. I think he should get at least as much attention and fame as Ian McEwan. However, "His Illegal Self" is a misstep. The novel reads like a draft--something quick and dirty that Carey had to get out to the publisher in order to fulfill a contract having already spent the advance.

There's nothing to hold on to in this book--if character makes plot then there's no...more
Jun 08, 2009 Lacey rated it 1 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Those not obsessed with punctuation marks
Shelves: own
I had the exact opposite problem with this book that I did with the last book I read. The problem with this book is that the story is good. It's interesting, if a bit cliche, but it takes some turns that intrigued. The problem is the writer is not a terribly good writer.

I know it's in vogue not to use quotation marks, but if you're virtually incapable of distinguishing between your characters' voices, it's probably necessary. It's not that the character's were unbelievable, but they seemed to al...more
Lisa Osur
I don't often get to the point when I decide I can't read anymore but I did with His Illegal Self. I had been looking at this book for a long time and finally picked it up to read. What I found was extremely confusing. Who is the boy? Who is his mother? Is his father really the Che? How is the grandmother involved? Is his mother really his mother or someone else and what or who is she hiding from? Then the mother sacrifices herself but did she really? The story jumps around locations and time pe...more
Peter Carey's latest novel tells the story of eight-year-old Che, the son of SDS radicals long since gone underground for crimes against the state, who is cared for by his wealthy grandmother. When the grandmother regretably gives Che over to a young woman the boy believes to be his mother, events spiral out of control and before you can say "g'day" the boy finds himself living on a hippie compound in a fecund corner of Australia. Carey handles the child's perspective quite well and the characte...more
It's just chance that I read two Peter Carey novels in a row. While I appreciated the difference in period and setting between this and Parrott & Olivier, I found His Illegal Self to be a lesser work. A young boy named Che lives in New York in the '70s with his wealthy grandmother, who has raised him after gaining custody from his Sixties radical mother. The bulk of the story concerns what happens when Anna (aka Dial) arrives to take Che to see his mother. Plans change, and the two end up in...more
Looking through some of the Goodreads reviews on this book shows a real diversity of experiences. Even the story itself is a thing in question. Carey has jammed a lot of ambiguity into His Illegal Self and it starts in the first chapter.

I jumped into this and became totally bewildered. After about 40 pages I assumed the fault was mine so I put the book down and started again some days later. But it is bewildering, it's not me. About as confusing as an eight years old being kidnapped by a fake mu...more
Apr 15, 2012 Kim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
loving this book
written with such emotion i want to reach and hug or smack the characters far too frequently


i really enjoyed this book. it was so easy to connect with the characters in this book - like or hate them

the story is about a woman who steals a child in America, kind of by accident and then lands up on the run with him, in Australia.
the book very beautifully shows the relationship between this woman and the boy, as well as the relationships they both have with the odd hippies th...more
Ron Charles
If you're a Peter Carey fan -- and you should be -- watch what you read about his compulsive new novel. Even the dust jacket risks spoiling the effect of this alternately gripping and disorienting story. The usual problem for reviewers is trying not to give away the end, but here the danger lies in giving away the beginning: His Illegal Self is front-loaded with shocks and twists that gradually fade into a contemplative tale of disrupted lives. Like two of his previous novels, "My Life as a Fake...more
Carey, Peter. HIS ILLEGAL SELF. (2008). ****. Carey is an excellent writer, having twice won the Booker Prize for fiction. This novel is no exception. It is the story of a young boy caught between two cultures and alternative sets of parents. His biological parents are active in some facet of a revolutionary underground, constantly in hiding, and wanted by the police. Their son, Che (or Jay), now lives with his grandmother in New York’s upper East Side. The grandmother hires a part-time caretake...more
Amanda Patterson
Born in Australia, now living in New York, author, Peter Carey, is the only contemporary literary author I enjoy reading.
His Illegal Self is an enchanting, sometimes frightening story of the profound love between a young woman, Dial, and a little boy, Che.

In "His Illegal Self," Peter Carey explores the protest movement of the '60s and '70s. Che is brought up in New York by his wealthy grandmother. The troubled son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties, he dreams of being wi...more
Peter Carey doesn't disappoint with His Illegal Self. Che is the son of underground 60s radicals who lives a privileged life with his wealthy grandmother and waits for his parents to liberate him. When that happens, he goes underground, too. Only, nothing is as it seems. Myths crumble. Underground is Down Under, and the wilds of Australia are much more a police state than the American one Che's parents made a reputation opposing. Living free comes with a lot of rules and expectations. Larger-tha...more
Carey is such a beastly writing god that I can almost ignore the fundamental implausibility of the impetus behind the central plot. This isn't a work of fantasy or even magical realism - it falls firmly into the modern realist camp, but in places it does have a woozy, dreamy feel, coupled with a storyline that doesn't quite make sense. Why, exactly, would Anna abandon her job? What happened to Susan? What's the deal with the dad? Why Australia? What the hell is going on with all of these nasty h...more
I was halfway through this book before I fell in love with it. The first half - I fought with the narrator. Who the hell is telling this story anyway? It’s part boy and part kidnapper. Part memory and part here and now. Part dreamy and part all-too-real reality. Part stinky-hairy armpit and part old-money, ivy-league’s the only way – martini breath. And then – deep in the bush of Australia – with penises peaking at me like mushrooms I was captured by Peter Carey’s lovely prose.
I will not finish reading this book in protest of the CHEAP novelist's tactic of introducing a beloved pet only to kill it later for emotional effect. For once, can't we have a puppy or kitten that makes it through the whole story and is last seen curling comfortable in its bed at the end of the novel? I can only hope a stingray's barbed tail pierces your cold, cold, kitten-hating heart, Peter Carey, and that this book shows up on remainder shelves very soon.
confusing, implausible, curiously apolitical, utterly obsessed with loose breasts bouncing around within shirts as a motif of countercultural affiliation, and festooned with symbols of Emotional Moments while failing ever to make the characters emotionally believable. read Dana Spiotta's superior Eat the Document instead.
Mar 30, 2009 Karen added it
Interesting book--While I thought some of the plot aspects were far-fetched, I was compelled to keep reading to the end. Rich language, interesting settings, emotional impact (at least for me). Peter Carey's books tend to stay with me even when I find some aspects of them difficult or jarring.
Lydia Hale
I nearly put this book down without finishing it, as I really struggled to get into it. I didn't like the author's writing style, I didn't think he had good characterizations and the story I didn't find interesting at all! But I kept at it.. but how it won some book prizes, beats me!
The sound quality on playaways is pretty lousy, but the simplicity and convenience are pretty great. Trade off? Not sure I would pick a playaway over a digital audiobook on my iphone next time.
Jill Robbertze
I think I now understand why this book got such mixed reviews. The story itself was quite gripping but only once I got used to the very strange and confusing way that it was written. It was difficult to figure out who was who and what was what, partly due to the writer's lack of punctuation and partly due to the overly poetic style. It was not always obvious which voice was communicating so that took a big of figuring out. I think this book will only be memorable to me for it's strangeness !!!!!
Pris robichaud
A love Letter To Nature, March 1, 2008
"With our protagonists no longer on the run, it finally becomes apparent what this novel is really about. It is a love letter to nature, and to the Australian wilderness in particular. Through the characters of this boy and woman, both cosseted urbanites who find themselves forced to live against their will in a tough, back-to-the-soil community, both of whom slowly and reluctantly come to terms with their changed circumstances, Carey pays moving homage to...more
Gregory Marris
I found the characters' voices very confusing in the first few chapters of this novel by Pater Carey.
I have had a mixed relationship with this author. Years ago he was my preferred author and I lapped up the wonderful tales in Fat Man in History, Illywacker & Oscar & Lucinda. By History of the Kelly gang he had pretty well lost me. So when I was struggling with the opening of His Illegal Self I almost put it aside. The dialogue is spoken without quotation marks and two voices can be hear...more
Ummmm... I'm not even sure where to start. Che/Jay (both names are used and there was some debate over which one his mother gave him and which one his grandmother later used) is a kid being raised by his grandma on Park Avenue in NYC. He's mother is involved in "The Underground" which is some sort of radical group with a history of violent protests (think: bombs). One day, he is taken away by a young woman.

I'll end my description here for a few reasons: A) I'm still so confused I'm not even exac...more
This was a riveting amazing book! I was so surprised by the twists and turns and riveted by the political aspects as well as the relationships that came up in the book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in fiction about the student demonstration/protest movements of the late 1960s-early 1970s like Weather Underground and SDS, but even if you aren't interested in hippies or revolutionaries, it was really well-written.

One of the more unique aspects to the storytelling is that you hear a...more
Aug 26, 2008 NYLSpublishing rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to NYLSpublishing by: The NYLS Book Review
There’s a saying that if you remember the 1960’s, you weren’t there. To this maxim I’ll append – if you weren’t there, you haven’t lived.

Carey’s His Illegal Self opens with the unwitting kidnapping of wealthy eight-year-old Ché from his grandmother’s care by a self-disdaining, Harvard University hippie named Dial. Ché s mother, another Ivy League graduate, orchestrates and initiates the caper prior to blowing herself up while handling explosives for “the movement”. Dial subsequently flees the co...more
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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
More about Peter Carey...
Oscar and Lucinda True History of the Kelly Gang Parrot and Olivier in America Jack Maggs Theft: A Love Story

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