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Peter Carey: Jack Maggs

I read this book just after reading Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray and my feeling about both was similar – here are two very fine authors marking time. This novel is the first Carey has set outside Australia and we can only wish he hurries back. This one is set in Dickensian London and is the story of Jack Maggs, an Englishman who has grown up in petty crime and who was transported to Australia when trying to protect his girlfriend. He has illegally returned to England and most of the book is about what he is doing there and why. He settles in the house of the suddenly enriched Mr. Buckle, terrorizing the household. Enter Tobias Oates, author and hypnotist, who finds out, by hypnotism, Maggs’ secret and intends to use it for his own ends. But the whole things reads like very sub-Dickens and I would rather read the real thing. The blurb on the back of my copy quoted the London Review of Books which said Future reprints of Oscar and Lucinda may well bear the legend “by the author of Jack Maggs. They won’t.

Publishing history

First published 1997 by Faber and Faber