Kelly Gang an absorbing tale

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Kelly Gang an absorbing tale

Carey’s biographical novel of an Irish-Australian outlaw in the 1870s is an absorbing tale of cops and robbers and deeply held grudges that might well strike a chord in the Korean psyche. Told through the pen of the semiliterate hero, Ned Kelly, the novel moves swiftly through Kelly’s childhood, first brushes with the law and progression to the head of a gang that roamed the Australian outback, murdering and stealing until the entire gang was tracked down and hanged.
Or was he actually a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to protect his poor Irish community that was persecuted and disparaged by the English elite who controlled Australia? The novel is somewhat ambiguous, as it should be, even though Ned Kelly had his own justifications for his actions.
Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” is a difficult novel to read because he uses 18th-century spelling and grammar throughout the novel (although he does it well). Carey uses a similar technique, although not to the lengths that Pynchon did. Ned Kelly was uneducated, and the novel is deliberately punctuated carelessly. Carey takes pity on the reader, though, by using standard spelling with only a few conventions. (Kelly doesn’t swear in his manuscript; he uses the word “adjectival” and conventions like “b-------r” to convey an obscenity.) That is a blessing for the reader, especially someone not familiar with Australian usage. Like an actor who conveys a British accent by just a few well-chosen pronunciations, Carey uses his conventions wisely.
The novel is absorbing, and it rockets along at a fast clip for its 360 pages ― perhaps too fast. A few of the incidents seem to have been shoehorned into the narrative ― or is that just the effect of the unpolished style that Kelly would naturally use?

by John Hoog
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