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Book Review: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Caray (3/5)

30 Jun

I bought this book so long ago that I’m not confident where I got it. Based on the bookmark I found inside, I’m guessing it was at Dawn Treader Bookshop in Ann Arbor, MI. That place is an amazing place to get lost in for a few hours. I don’t know why it was on my TBR but I think it was before I found a copy. In my COVID-fuled effort to read my owned books, I’m glad I’m finally getting to this one!


Cover image via Amazon

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Caray

Summary from Amazon:

This is Ned Kelly’s true confession, in his own words and written on the run for an infant daughter he has never seen. To the authorities, this son of dirt-poor Irish immigrants was a born thief and, ultimately, a cold-blooded murderer; to most other Australians, he was a scapegoat and patriot persecuted by “English” landlords and their agents.

With his brothers and two friends, Kelly eluded a massive police manhunt for twenty months, living by his wits and strong heart, supplementing his bushwhacking skills with ingenious bank robberies while enjoying the support of most everyone not in uniform. He declined to flee overseas when he could, bound to win his jailed mother’s freedom by any means possible, including his own surrender. In the end, however, she served out her sentence in the same Melbourne prison where, in 1880, her son was hanged.

Still his country’s most powerful legend, Ned Kelly is here chiefly a man in full: devoted son, loving husband, fretful father, and loyal friend, now speaking as if from the grave. With this mythic outlaw and the story of his mighty travails and exploits, and with all the force of a classic Western, Peter Carey has breathed life into a historical figure who transcends all borders and embodies tragedy, perseverance, and freedom.

I read this book slowly and that took away from my enjoyment to be sure. Something about raising a child just eats up your time, huh? It took me a while to get used to the formatting. Since Ned doesn’t have a formal education, he doesn’t know proper grammar. Paragraphs have no periods, capitalization is lacking, and there’s no punctuation surrounding dialogue. It took some time and when I was away from this book for any extended time, it was an adjustment to return to it.

Ned felt real to me. It was easy to see how he became who is was based on his upbringing. I understand why the citizens were behind him and against the police. He becomes very sympathetic. Instead of feeling like an outlaw, he feels like Robin Hood and you feel bad for him. Joe, Dan, and Steve don’t receive the same treatment because this is Ned’s story, but you do feel like you can love them as well.

Ned was easy to love. You see how passionately he cares about his family and community. He has a very reasonable idea of justice and the reader can agree with him and want the same things as him. It makes sense that Dan, Joe, and Steve want to follow him and that the populace helps hide him. It would be hard to flesh out any other character the way he is without writing an epic.

It was hard to relate to many of Ned’s experiences. He had a very unique home life and his experiences with his father, step fathers, and father figures was very different from anything I’ve experienced. His hometown felt very ‘Wild West’ to me which is what I pictured since I’m unfamiliar with the Australian brush. It came off as an adventure story to me, so unfamiliar with the history of that area.


Peter Caray Image via NPR

The time Ned was chased by the police toward the end is my most vivid memory of this book. It’s hard to say with confidence if it’s because I enjoyed that the most or because it’s most recent in my memory. I loved how much they thought out their crimes and how they would get the town on their side. It made robbery feel like a fun adventure, though one I don’t care to ever be a part of!

Ned’s late teens were very tumultuous. It was hard to read about his time in jail and his fights with his step fathers. Just when there was a glimmer of happiness for him, things would turn south. It felt like nothing was moving forward and that’s the part of the book that dragged for me. It’s hard to say if it was me being unable to empathize with him, or a lull in the story.

There was little recourse to find justice for Ned. He was discriminated against for being Irish and poor. He was forced to resort to criminality to defend his family when the law failed to do so. He was a sympathetic character and it’s easy to see why he was the people’s hero and the law’s enemy.

Writer’s Takeaway: The stylistic choices in this book were bold. The lack of grammatical structure took me out of the book at times and immersed me in it at others. I could hear Ned’s voice better and got deeper into his head, but I had to reread some lines and struggled to learn who was talking sometimes. I’m not sure I would ever write from a first person point of view and need to worry about that but it is a quandary of what to do to best bring out a character’s voice. Overall, I think Caray did it well and I liked getting to know Ned so well.

I had very mixed feelings on this book. Overall, Three out of Five Stars. It would be 3.5 if I did halves as I found it very enjoyable but it dragged some.

Until next time, write on.

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