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Peter Carey: Illywhacker

Rightly described as a picaresque masterpiece, Illywhacker is the story of 139-year old Herbert Badgery, an “illywhacker” (a term for “a professional trickster, esp. operating at country shows”). Badgery is, of course, one of those loveable rogues who has seen it all, done it all, who has cheated and lied all his life and yet is still a character we cannot help being charmed by, whether as a reader or as one of his fairground victims.

Illywhacker recounts Badgery’s journey, both through Australia and through the century and the adventures he has. Badgery is, by his own admission, “a terrible liar. Lying is my main subject, my specialty, my skill”. As he tells his story, we do not, of course, know what is “true” and what is his own invention. It does not matter as Badgery/Carey tells a wonderful story. New technology is important to Badgery as it was to Australia – first cars and then planes, as he becomes an aviator. It is with this technology that he can travel around Australia and, also, it is with this technology that he meets the lovely Phoebe (his future wife) and her mother, Molly McGrath, with her electric belt. The first part is his life with Phoebe and Molly and their friends and family, before he, his son and daughter set out on their travels. Before long they meet Leah Goldstein, Goon Tse Ying, Les Chaffey and other assorted characters of the Australian road. A great picaresque romp, this 600+ page novel will keep you spellbound till the end.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by University of Queensland Press