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The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  747 ratings  ·  40 reviews
From a writer whom Thomas Keneally calls "one of the great figures on the cusp of the millennium" comes a novel that conjures an entire world that suggests our own, but tilted on its axis—a world whose most powerful country, Voorstand, dominates its neighbors with ruthless espionage and its mesmerizing but soul-destroying Sirkus.

Into that world comes Tristan Smith, a malfo
Paperback, 432 pages
Published January 30th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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Reading Peter Carey is always a gamble. The bower-bird nature of his source material, where his current obsessions - often an aspect of the creative life - is unpicked to the point of immersion, sometimes comes off and sometimes doesn't. His books are quilts - glass and gambling, painting and forgery, ern malley and the botany of Malaysia. Does that last one jar a little?

You bet it did. My Life as a Fake was the worst Carey book I've suffered, a hopeless melange of Frankenstein, Carey's nostalgi
Whilst the world-building that went into it was interesting and Carey's technical ability is always at the very least serviceable throughout the novel, I just wasn't really engaged much in any other capacity and was left with nothing more than a sour-taste in my mouth and a profound sense of apathy for the entire endeavour. It just wasn't my cup of tea, at all.
Funny, sad, thrilling and thought-provoking. To thoroughly comprehend this book, it probably helps to be Australian: although set in mythical nations Efica and Voorstand, it quite brilliantly explores the love-hate relationship which Australians have with American culture. However, the book never takes itself too seriously, and moves easily between comedy, tragedy and adventure. A book not to be taken on holiday, because you won't be able to put it down.
It is an odd book. I really like Peter Carey, but I'm not quite sure what he was trying to get at in this story. Still, it is well written, with magical elements and a picture of a weird world, and it is written as a quest which I always like. It somehow seems like it owes something to the Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, but maybe because they both feature deformed midgets.
This book is SO GOOD. The world Carey creates, the two countries, Efica and Voorstand, the lingo, the cultures. The themes of love, ambition, identity. The characters. The scale of time. I see I am resorting to a list of nouns, but these are all the things I that were so wonderfully notable about this book. Peter Carey ftw.
May 10, 2007 Stacey rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Most
A strange and twisted novel set in a non-existent place yet imbued with a ring of familiarity despite its fantastical set-up and singularly mal-formed title character. We never exactly what is wrong with him, but the story doesn't suffer, it's a very interesting work.
Denise Wilkerson
I stopped reading it after the first half because I found it a bit tedious and not nearly as good as his other books. I pretty much never stop reading a book but I found myself just wanting to read something else instead and life's too short.
Odd book. This was suggested to me by someone because of another book that I loved and I found this did not match up for me.
Sarah Sammis
Strange book that pretty much describes all of Carey's work. This one though didn't capture my imagination like the others had.
One of the most intriguing and mystifying books I have ever read. Outstanding, imaginative and compelling.
I had been meaning to read something by Peter Carey when I found this at the Friends of the Library book sale and was intrigued because the premise reminded me of Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, Like Hoban's post-apocalyptic novel this one has an invented language, though it doesn't seem as pervasive as the argot of Riddley Walker and there is the use of puppets and miracle type entertainments as a central part of the cultures' religions. The book set on my bedside shelf for several years before ...more
T. Edward
Jul 03, 2011 T. Edward rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Keen readers of sci-fi and altenative realities.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
THE UNUSUAL LIFE OF TRISTAN SMITH. (1994). Peter Carey. ***.
Carey has created an alternative universe complete with maps and an annotated language, peopled with characters and institutions much like the ones we are familiar with, but in a place we don’t know. The country we start out in is Efica, a nation that consists of eighteen islands. To the north (I think) of Efica is another country, Voorstand. Voorstand is the more developed of the two countries and seems to hold sway over Efica in ways
May 28, 2008 Alison rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone ever told they couldn't be actor because of how they looked.
I've never read a Peter Carey novel that I haven't enjoyed. He's a brilliant stylist with an great ear for language (of the spoken and written varieties) and he can spin a good yarn. "The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith" is no exception. I spent a while trying to figure out if its setting was intended to be futuristic or just an alternate reality present. I believe it's the latter--a conceit that allows Carey ample opportunity to poke fun at what I read as USA stand-in. Of course, he also satirize ...more
Michael Cohen
Unlike most picaresques, Tristan Smith begins in a strange place and ends in an even weirder one. This quality is characteristic of Peter Carey's work (Bliss and The Tax Inspector come to mind), and it has the spine-prick effect of displacing the fulsome, rich, slightly-though-appreciably alternate future world of Tristan, in which Efica is a New Zealand-sized version of Canada to Voorstand's USA (of course, they both seem to be located in the South Pacific).

In other words, the tingling disloca
If John Irving and the guy who wrote the last season of Lost jumped into a time machine that was made out of a cereal box and a fondue fork and went back to 1994 I think they could make this into a story. oh and seriously do you have to mention snot or vomit like every page?
Greg Olson
I gave it about 80 pages and gave up. I got bogged down in the fictitious country, the made up words and the footnotes--god, the footnotes. And the story didn't really grab me. Peter Carey is highly regarded as a writer, but I have yet to find a book of his that I really like.
Typical early Carey writing as he learns to discard the grotesque and finesse his use of the picaresque which makes his later writing so much more effective and polished.

I found this book in a cardboard box in a second hand bookstore and bought it for approximately 1 euro. I can't believe someone would throw it away and someone else would decide to sell it for less than a bottle of mineral water. Regardless, it is always like this for me - I accidentally stumble upon the greatest things, greatest writers, greatest music in my life.

I am very happy and grateful to have found Peter Carey, who regaled me with the most wonderful picaresque story since th
Looking at the other reviews this seems a "marmite" book - you either love it or hate.

I'm pretty much in the latter, I couldn't relate to any of the characters, the imaginary geography was simply bemusing and I just couldn't warm to the story. Like Carey's other novels, it's excellently written, just wasn't my cup of tea.
I honestly don't know if I enjoyed this book or not. The world-building is fantastic; the alternate present Care creates is really interesting. The characters were good and interesting, but to be honest I didn't connect to any of them. There didn't seem to be anyone to like in this book.
Not sure I can claim to have read this ...I skimmed it and found myself not completely taken by Tristan, his narrative or the good people of Effica. I supposed that makes me a Sirkus-loving Voorstadian.
An exceptional book, very much under-appreciated. Carey creates a knock-out narrator, unlike anyone you'll every encounter elsewhere. I need to read it again, given it has been a few years...
Such a brave experiment, this book. So lacking in faux social realism. Ultimately, kinda fails as a fantasy novel, but kinda wins as a story, and certainly for the exceptional dialogue.
Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. As usual, Peter Carey writes a very good book that is very difficult to read at times. One of my favorite writers.
absolutely odious book but strangely fascinating. can't say i liked it but it was one hell of an achievement
Eor Hent
I found this book difficult to penetrate. Although it was well received by our book club in general.
I found this book randomly in the thrift store. It was brilliant! Can't wait to read more by Peter Carey.
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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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