Books: Rhyme and Punishment

In Peter Carey's ingenious new novel, a poet who never existed takes on a disturbing life of his own

Truth is a slippery thing. Just ask Peter Carey. In True History of the Kelly Gang, which won the Booker Prize three years ago, the cunning Australian built a palace of fiction from the "true story" of a legend, the Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly. For My Life as a Fake (Knopf; 266 pages), his point of departure is an even more intricate falsehood, the Ern Malley affair.

In 1944 two Australian soldiers who hated the obscurities of modernist poetry conspired to invent Malley, a working-class genius, and fabricate his verse. Then they hoodwinked the editors of an Australian literary journal--called Angry...

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