Alison's Reviews > The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey
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's review
May 28, 08

Recommended for: Anyone ever told they couldn't be actor because of how they looked.
Read in May, 2008

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 satirizes espionage, post-colonialism, banana republics, experimental theater, leftist politics, vegetarianism and Christianity at very points along the journey. But the satire is often fairly gentle, by comparison.

Other readers here have commented on this book's being sad or difficult. I found it to be neither. Tristan, the eponymous narrator, is witty, clever and pretty lovable, despite of (and sometimes because of) his myriad handicaps.

This is a rollicking read, imaginative and weird, a true picaresque. My only complaint derives from what feels like a gradual losing of steam toward the end of the novel. Any further comment on that, though, feels like a spoiler. So, leaving it at that.

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