His Illegal Self

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 June, 2009, 12:00am

His Illegal Self
by Peter Carey
Faber and Faber HK$104

His Illegal Self is the peculiar story of Che, a seven-year-old boy who is being raised in WASPish splendour by his formidable maternal grandmother (Phoebe Selkirk) in New York. The year is 1972 and Che's parents have gone AWOL. Harvard educated, they became absorbed by radical politics and spent the 1960s protesting. Now on the run from the FBI, they have all but orphaned Che to more causes than you can shake a Molotov cocktail at. Enter a woman called Dial. Che believes she is his prodigal mother and is whisked off onto the subway, thence to Philadelphia. In fact Dial is Che's former babysitter and before long we are deep into an explosive plot involving underground political groups - literally: Che's mother blows herself up while making a homemade bomb. By this point, Che and Dial are in Australia and find themselves thrust into a story involving a commune, a storm and Dial's ever-more futile attempts to construct any sort of order. As with Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions, also set in the world of radical 60s politics, the point of all this escapes me. Carey is too good to be dull or chaotic, but here he flirts dangerously with both.