I liked it. As a reader, the story is pure fun. As a writer, it is a lesson in foreshadowing, the unreliable narrator, and using the fantastical to keep a reader guessing what bizarreness will come next. Even the title begs this book to be read, just to find out what an ‘illywhacker’ is. (He does define it and the story is about that.)
Carey published Illywhacker in 1985, an award winner, a book you can get your teeth into, with multiple layers of study of the human condition. It is an illustration of crazy Australiana – regional towns, major cities, country folk, working with what is at hand and things they can make. The characters are wonderfully crafted so that by the end, you will know Leah, George, Mr. Lo, and Emma who lives in a cage. Herbert Badgery tells us, from his point of view, who these people are and were to him, as they changed, as their relationships developed and sometimes withered away, some surviving for his entire life, if we can believe him. He was a car salesman after all.
This story is about cages – metaphorical and actual, the ones we choose, the ones we don’t, and the ones we don’t realise we are in. This book is just as relevant today, to think about, as it was thirty years ago.