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His Illegal Self

3.2  ·  Rating Details ·  2,013 Ratings  ·  333 Reviews
Seven-year-old Che Selkirk was raised in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother. The son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties, Che has grown up with the hope that one day his parents will come back for him. So when a woman arrives at his front door and whisks him away to the jungles of Queensland, he is confronted with the most important ques ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by Vintage (first published February 5th 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 16, 2008 Magdalena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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,
Lisa Osur
Sep 12, 2008 Lisa Osur rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 15, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Barbara Ellison
Aug 02, 2011 Barbara Ellison rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 29, 2014 Stuart rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no-one
Shelves: fiction
This is not one of Peter Carey's better efforts. 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 t ...more
Jul 22, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 21, 2009 Jenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: antipodes
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
Mar 06, 2008 Rhonda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 08, 2009 Lacey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 21, 2009 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 10, 2008 June rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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.
Jun 17, 2013 Liz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 09, 2014 Vanessa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing writing by Peter Carey, although the lack of punctuation was irritating and confusing at times.The novel has a distracted quality. The shifts of time and perspective become less purposeful and organised. As Dial has trouble with her neighbours and the father figure as manifested by Trevor is thrown into the mix the energy goes out of the storytelling.

Antagonisms and misunderstandings muddy the waters. The different angles are not fully explored and the emotional aspect of the dramatic
Feb 11, 2015 Olga rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
uh... I had tried this book a few years ago and gave up...
This time got it as a downloadable audiobook, so managed to get to the end.
Mostly I was fascinated with the idea of a two-time Booker prize winner. I had sort of liked "Parrot and Olivier". But this one...
Intrigued by the US 60-70 political turmoil, I was very much taken by the premise of a child of two SDS members being accidentally kidnapped and having to go underground. Back story of several family members, Park Ave apartment, Harvard
Apr 14, 2011 Simon rated it liked it
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
Jan 22, 2010 Donald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ron Charles
Dec 15, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 07, 2008 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 05, 2009 Amanda Patterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 02, 2009 Marguerite rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 02, 2013 Darwin8u rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I wanted to like this more. There were parts that were amazing, but it just seemed messy. Kind of a throw away novel that allowed Carey to unpackage ideas around the American radical left and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Australian hippie communes (seriously, hippie commune negotiations don't get more interesting in fiction, I don't care HOW good of a writer you are).

Throughout this setting, Carey sketches rough ideas about family, heritage, mothers, money and sons. Underneat
A young boy goes on the run with the radical woman he supposes is his mother. The writing style pissed me off too much for me to continue reading this. Sometimes clarity is good!
Kenya (BookedUpBoss)
I'm not sure what I think of this book. I definitely liked it. The metaphors and imagery are beautiful. The characters were well developed. But I'm on the fence about whether I think the story was actually interesting. I'd say 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Andrea Kelly
Apr 21, 2014 Andrea Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was so moved by this book, so moved that I feel like words fail me in trying to describe how and why it had such an effect. Perhaps it moved me so because I expected it, this is to be expected of Peter Carey, isn't it? And perhaps I expected it because the blurb on the back of the book told me to expect it; "It may make you cry more than once before it uplifts your spirit in the most lovely, artful, unexpected way". It certainly did that.

Carey's style is so unique and I absolutely love it, but
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 !!!!!
Mar 01, 2009 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookgroup
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.
Steve Petherbridge
This is basically a love story between a young boy, a product of "the revolution" of the '60's and a temporary guardian, appointed by his on-the-run mother to snatch him from his court appointed guardian, his maternal Manhattanite wealthy grandmother and escort him to her.

Peter Carey is a two-time Booker winner, so, has a strong pedigree. His novel centres on the theme of family, the emotional and blood ties that always bond, though here these connections are irrational.

In this novel, the boy's
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.
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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
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“Swimming always cleans your soul” 8 likes
“Your American, you wouldn't know if you were up yourself.” 1 likes
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