True History of the Kelly Gang isn't merely a historical novel; it's a fully imagined act of historical impersonation … The form and style of the novel could hardly be more striking. Couched as a rough-hewn apologia drawn from 13 parcels of dogeared papers Kelly has written while on the run, True History is dedicated to the infant daughter he has yet to see and, he promises, contains 'no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false' … One's own eyes widen a little as this strange narrative unfolds in a prose that seems initially to be as untidy and agrammatical as subway graffiti. As we adjust to the raggedly punctuated flow, however, Kelly's voice develops into an expansive and malleable instrument, bristling with shafts of wit and poetic grace notes.
In a spectacular feat of literary ventriloquism, the Australian-born novelist Peter Carey invites the outlaw Ned Kelly to tell his story. He summons the rollicking, unschooled, hugely colorful voice of Australia's best-known underdog for a bravura book-length performance … In providing Ned's side of the various skirmishes that form the basis of his notoriety, and in drawing upon a post-bank-robbery 8,300-word public statement of Kelly's for some of the book's lively syntax, Mr. Carey delves into the relative minutiae of police and journalistic accounts of Ned's life. These particulars might threaten to eclipse the bigger picture if they were not rendered so atmospherically, complete with wombats and banshees, cockatoo pie and roasting kangaroo.
Pushed centre stage with neither a definite nor an indefinite article for moral or theatrical support, True History of the Kelly Gang signals the first of its many deceits. Peter Carey's skills, passions and obsessions are all fully on display in this long-awaited take on colonial Australia's most enduring myth … This Ned Kelly is a convincing and intriguing individual; Carey has indulged his appetite for language and imaginative construction in making him so. It does not matter that we are unable to pin Kelly to the facts of his life, only that we are willing and prepared to accept him as Carey reveals him to us, and to trust the kaleidoscopic array of characters and situations and the often startling images employed by Carey to create them. There is wonder here, and awe.