Book Read! ILLYWHACKER by Peter Carey

Peter Carey, Illywhacker (1985).

First sentence: “My name is Herbert Badgery.”

P. 99: “Molly McGrath whimpered and curled her fifty-year old body into a shaking ball beneath the sheets.”

Last sentence: “It will give him strength for the interesting times ahead.”

From the author’s website: In Australian slang, an Illywhacker is a country fair con man, an unprincipled seller of fake diamonds and dubious tonics. And Herbert Badgery, the 139-year-old narrator of Peter Carey’s uproarious novel, may be the king of them all. Vagabond and charlatan, aviator and car salesman, seducer and patriarch, Badgery is a walking embodiment of the Australian national character — especially of its proclivity for tall stories and barefaced lies. As Carey follows this charming scoundrel across a continent and a century, he creates a crazy quilt of outlandish encounters, with characters that include a genteel dowager who fends off madness with an electric belt and a ravishing young girl with a dangerous fondness for rooftop trysts. Boldly inventive, irresistibly odd, Illywhacker is further proof that Peter Carey is one of the most enchanting writers at work in any hemisphere. Illywhacker was shortlisted for the 1985 Booker Prize.

I won this book in a giveaway organised by Kim Forrester from Reading Matters; it was sent to me by the publisher faber and faber. Thanks to both of them!

I have a double feeling about this book.  While I loved the first 250 pages and the last 200 (total page number: 569), I thought the part in between a bit boring and a bit too long.  Perhaps it was the introduction of so much new characters that apparently had nothing to do with the story (although later they did), or the interruption of the main story, I don’t know.

Herbert Badgery is an adventurous man, who tries to make the most of every event that happens in his life and every context and situation he finds himself in… he is a cynic but he is also very spontaneous.  But, since he admits on the first page of the book that he is a liar, and since he is the narrator of the story, you begin to wonder if he is indeed the man that you think he is, based on his writings.  One thing, however, I think drives him: that is his wish to have a home with a wife and kids and sit with them contently around the table.

Other reviews of Illywhacker you can find on Musings of a Literary Dilettante’s Blog , Bookstacks, and the Insatiable Booksluts.

If you want to know which books I read so far this year, here is the list.



  1. Ooh, books with unreliable narrators are often quite good fun!

    I have recently also had this problem with books, that the middle bit bores me. I think it’s when the writer has set up the premise of the story, it takes too long before something actually happens. Sounds like that is the case here.

    I won’t put it on my wish list just yet, but if I come across the book, I’ll pick it up and have a look.

    • Yes, you are right, Judith, books with unreliable narrators often are the most interesting ones.
      The middle part of this book seemed to break the storyline in two… Luckily it got more interesting again, but it seemed as if the story was put on hold. I don’t mind that if it doesn’t take too long.
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I tried reading ‘Illywhacker’ and was .. well… I was quite prepared for the ride! All I can say is, Badgery is one heck of a character. Scary but hella fun!

    Nice review by the way 🙂

    • Badgery was totally unreliable, but indeed a lot of fun…
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Do love a good Carey and have not read this one yet.

    • Then you should read this one, Claire. I had only read one book by Carey before this one, Parrot and Olivier in America, and liked it too.
      Thanks for your comment!

  4. It sounds like a good story that could have used tighter editing.

    • Yes, I thought the middle part was a bit long, and I wasn’t really interested in all the background information of these new characters. Although I do admit the information was useful to the last part of the book.
      Thanks for your comment.

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