Highbrow Hoaxers

Australian novelist Peter Carey frequently finds inspiration in his country's rich social history. In True History of the Kelly Gang, he chronicled the exploits of the bushranger Ned Kelly. In Jack Maggs, he penned a brilliant fantasia about an Aussie convict crossing paths with Charles Dickens. Carey's new novel, My Life as a Fake, is an absorbing, mind-bending tale incorporating another odd corner of Australian history: one of the nation's most bizarre literary scandals, the Ern Malley hoax.

In 1944, two conservative, antimodernist poets invented a literary working-class hero—a garage mechanic who composed surrealist verse, which his creators...

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