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The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  898 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
The Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and The Tax Inspector now gives readers a hero, the malformed but ferociously wilful Tristan Smith, who becomes the object of the world's byzantine political intrigues, even as he attains stardom in a bizarre Sirkus that is part passion play and part Mortal Kombat.

From the Hardcover edition.
ebook, 432 pages
Published August 18th 2010 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
Jul 15, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: austrayan
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.
Feb 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Apr 12, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
May 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most intriguing and mystifying books I have ever read. Outstanding, imaginative and compelling.
Dec 17, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
AWESOME! Love this book
If the varied works of Peter Carey have a unifying thread, it’s his fascination with what it means to be Australian, and Australia’s relationship with the rest of the world. Illywhacker, his second novel, was the first to thoroughly explore this theme, covering three generations of an Australian family across the 20th century, their country in thrall first to the British and later to the Americans. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, written a few years after Carey moved permanently to New York, ...more
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am a Peter Carey fan, but this book is a disappointment. Seems Carey has taken an evening course in culture studies (or maybe he teaches one) and has written a study text. Plenty of grievance and victimhood here. Cultural hegemony abounds. A book to launch a thousand dreary essays.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it.
T. Edward
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Michael Cohen
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonathan Gruber
Mar 01, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
just too weird, couldn't get into it
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
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peter Carey is always good for a set of unusual characters dealing with a host of social, psychological, and political problems. He has a unique ability to communicate with close sensitivity some of the cultural nuances within Australian society, as well as cultural clashes with countries like the U.S. (born and raised in Australia, having lived in New York since the 1990s). He's written fictional accounts that take on important issues such as the sacking of the Whitlam government and the possib ...more
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peter Carey is always good value for money, so inventive and packs so much in. This novel had much that I loved - the invented pidgin French and Dutch slang words and dialects were a joy, so clever! and some lovely, poignant characterisation .. Felicity, Wally, Roxanna .. But the character of Tristan Smith himself eluded me .. I couldn't get to the heart of who he was. Nor could I ever picture him clearly, despite the numerous attempts to describe his unnerving features .. I could never really S ...more
Dan Downing
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not all is as it seems in this hefty but not huge novel by Peter Carey, who is still considered one of our (English language) better writers.

Echoing many writers and books, beginning with the "Tristram Shandy" twist in the title, and using the title to understate things--the word 'Unusual' barely begins to describe our novelistic plight---Carey brings us to an imaginary world which is recognizable the way our own image is in a fun house mirror.

Using carefully crafted and often biting prose, all
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 the Tin Drum! O
Dec 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Greg Olson
Oct 04, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
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.
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.
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 07, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Carly Johnson
Aug 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Maybe trying too hard to be creative and interesting. Kelly Gang was better.
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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...