Kristina A's Reviews > Jack Maggs

Jack Maggs by Peter Carey
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Aug 21, 09

bookshelves: neo-victorian, victorian
Read in August, 2009

I will say this for Peter Carey: the man can write an ending. I wrote extensively in my review for Oscar and Lucinda about the stunning achievement of the ending of that book. While the ending for this one is not as disturbing, it is nevertheless very well done. Carey brilliantly brings together the strands of the story -- some of which you didn't even realize were building to anything! -- in order to craft something truly haunting and at the same time satisfying.

Now, this novel was no Oscar and Lucinda. O&L is so dense and rich and dark, it's like the most decadent chocolate cake you can imagine. (Except this metaphor doesn't really work, since the novel is not sweet at all. Oh well. You know what I mean.) Jack Maggs is more like one scoop of chocolate ice cream. It's good, but you're not going to get totally lost in the complexity of it, and really, you could take another scoop, please. (Did my dessert metaphor work at all for you?)

This is a much quicker read than O&L, and less complex. It has a great hook and keeps the mystery going. I can honestly say that I didn't see a lot of the plot/character reveals coming at all. It builds at a great pace and the interaction between characters is funny and believable in the sense of how self-centered people can be. Carey employs one of the most recognizable of his writing style from O&L to this novel -- namely, his tendency to tell each chapter from a different perspective, always revealing something surprising about that character. As you read, the characters come more into focus, and at times, those you thought you would like reveal some pretty agregious personality traits.

In my opinion, the best character in the novel is Tobias Oates, the "Dickens" character. WOW. Carey does not let Dickens off the hook at ALL, painting him as arrogant, egotistical, self-serving, careless of others, and immature (granted, this is meant to be a very young Dickens). His one saving grace is that he is a brilliant writer, and even for that, he relentlessly plunders the lives of others, exploiting them for his own gain. The struggle between Oates and Jack Maggs, who resists becoming a "character," is fascinating. (My one problem with the Oates character is that occasionally Carey will include short excerpts from his work, and Carey does not write like Dickens at all on the sentence level. That might be ok, except Carey's style isn't really like *any* Victorian writer. I would have liked to see a more dramatic stylistic shift, the way that A.S. Byatt is able to do in her novels that include faux-Victorian writing).

Overall, I would recommend this. If you're looking for the whole Peter Carey experience, I would go with Oscar and Lucinda, but if you're just looking for a good read with dark twists, Jack Maggs will serve you well.
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