As postmodern fiction continues to blur the lines between the (presumably real) world of the reader and the (presumably unreal) world of the novel, the idea of a literary fraud takes on a strange new power. Australian novelist Peter Carey grips that energy and holds it fast for two-thirds of his slim new book My Life As A Fake, only to let it squirm out of his grasp in the denouement. His heroine, Sarah, the editor of a prestigious but insolvent literary journal, becomes infatuated with a dissolute poet who used to hang around her family when she was a child. On an impulsive trip to Malaysia, they meet Christopher Chubb, now a wreck of a man fixing bicycles, but once infamous in literary circles for his invention and promotion of a nonexistent poet named Bob McCorkle. Chubb claims that McCorkle has actually come to life, and shows Sarah a haunting poem on a page torn from a book. Convinced that the publication of McCorkle's poems will both save her magazine and make her reputation, Sarah listens to Chubb's Conrad-esque tale of foreign journeys, shape-shifting pursuers, and lost children, hoping to snag the mysterious book at the end of it all. The combination of Sarah's pragmatic British realism, her lover's flighty paranoia, and Chubb's earnest mysticism make for compelling reading–at least while there's still hope that Carey will sort it all out in a surprising or transcendent way. But the downfall of much fiction that walks the tightrope between the word and the word-made-flesh is that it's most exciting while anything can still happen. Once a particular series of events brings the story to a close, it's often as anticlimactic as My Life As A Fake's ending. Carey reveals in an afterword that the McCorkle hoax isn't his creation; it's a famous literary scandal from 1940s Melbourne. And the fragments of poetry Carey quotes in his novel are, in fact, the purported McCorkle works. Perhaps the book's underpinning of real (fake) life helps explain how it maintains an otherworldly, almost horrific quality until the disappointing ending. My Life As A Fake not only portrays, but also illustrates the sense that the power of language can't be traced to any human source. Whatever we're doing when we write isn't solely our accomplishment, or our responsibility.

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