Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • His Illegal Self
  • Written by Peter Carey
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307276490
  • Our Price: $14.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - His Illegal Self

Buy now from Random House

  • His Illegal Self
  • Written by Peter Carey
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307268549
  • Our Price: $11.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - His Illegal Self

His Illegal Self

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

Written by Peter CareyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Peter Carey


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: February 05, 2008
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-26854-9
Published by : Vintage Knopf
His Illegal Self Cover

Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - His Illegal Self
  • Email this page - His Illegal Self
  • Print this page - His Illegal Self
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
fiction (53) australia (24) hippies (15) kidnapping (12)
» see more tags
» hide


Seven-year-old Che Selkirk was raised in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother. The son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties, Che has grown up with the hope that one day his parents will come back for him. So when a woman arrives at his front door and whisks him away to the jungles of Queensland, he is confronted with the most important questions of his life: Who is his real mother? Did he know his real father? And if all he suspects is true, what should he do? In this artful tale of a young boy's journey, His Illegal Self lifts your spirit in the most unexpected way.

From the Trade Paperback edition.


Chapter 1

There were no photographs of the boy's father in the house upstate. He had been persona non grata since Christmas 1964, six months before the boy was born. There were plenty of pictures of his mom. There she was with short blond hair, her eyes so white against her tan. And that was her also, with black hair, not even a sister to the blonde girl, although maybe they shared a kind of bright attention.

She was an actress like her grandma, it was said. She could change herself into anyone. The boy had no reason to disbelieve this, not having seen his mother since the age of two. She was the prodigal daughter, the damaged saint, like the icon that Grandpa once brought back from Athens—shining silver, musky incense—although no one had ever told the boy how his mother smelled.

Then, when the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway. No one had told him to expect it.

That was pretty typical of growing up with Grandma Selkirk. You were some kind of lovely insect, expected to know things through your feelers, by the kaleidoscope patterns in the others' eyes. No one would dream of saying, Here is your mother returned to you. Instead his grandma told him to put on his sweater. She collected her purse, found her keys and then all three of them walked down to Bloomingdale's as if it were a deli. This was normal life. Across Park, down Lex. The boy stood close beside the splendid stranger with the lumpy khaki pack strapped onto her back. That was her blood, he could hear it now, pounding in his ears. He had imagined her a wound-up spring, light, bright, blonde, like Grandma in full whir. She was completely different; she was just the same. By the time they were in Bloomingdale's she was arguing about his name.

What did you just call Che? she asked the grandma.

His name, replied Grandma Selkirk, ruffling the boy's darkening summer hair. That's what I called him. She gave the mother a bright white smile. The boy thought, Oh, oh!

It sounded like Jay, the mother said.

The grandma turned sharply to the shopgirl who was busy staring at the hippie mother.

Let me try the Artemis.

Grandma Selkirk was what they call an Upper East Side woman—cheekbones, tailored gray hair—but that was not what she called herself. I am the last bohemian, she liked to say, to the boy, particularly, meaning that no one told her what to do, at least not since Pa Selkirk had thrown the Buddha out the window and gone to live with the Poison Dwarf.

Grandpa had done a whole heap of other things besides, like giving up his board seat, like going spiritual. When Grandpa moved out, Grandma moved out too. The Park Avenue apartment was hers, always had been, but now they used it maybe once a month. Instead they spent their time on Kenoza Lake near Jeffersonville, New York, a town of 400 where "no one" lived. Grandma made raku pots and rowed a heavy clinker boat. The boy hardly saw his grandpa after that, except sometimes there were postcards with very small handwriting. Buster Selkirk could fit a whole ball game on a single card.

For these last five years it had been just Grandma and the boy together and she threaded the squirming live bait to hook the largemouth bass and, also, called him Jay instead of Che. There were no kids to play with. There were no pets because Grandma was allergic. But in fall there were Cox's pippins, wild storms, bare feet, warm mud and the crushed-glass stars spilling across the cooling sky. You can't learn these things anywhere, the grandma said. She said she planned to bring him up Victorian. It was better than "all this."

He was christened Che, right?

Grandma's wrist was pale and smooth as a flounder's belly. The sunny side of her arm was brown but she had dabbed the perfume on the white side—blue blood, that's what he thought, looking at the veins.

Christened? His father is a Jew, the grandma said. This fragrance is too old for her, she told the Bloomingdale's woman who raised a cautious eyebrow at the mother. The mother shrugged as if to say, What are you going to do? Too floral, Grandma Selkirk said without doubting she would know.

So it's Jay?

Grandma spun around and the boy's stomach gave a squishy sort of lurch. Why are you arguing with me? she whispered. Are you emotionally tone-deaf?

The salesgirl pursed her lips in violent sympathy.

Give me the Chanel, said Grandma Selkirk. While the salesgirl wrapped the perfume, Grandma Selkirk wrote a check. Then she took her pale kid gloves from the glass countertop. The boy watched as she drew them onto each finger, thick as eel skin. He could taste it in his mouth.

You want me to call him Che in Bloomingdale's, his grandma hissed, finally presenting the gift to the mother.

Shush, the mother said.

The grandma raised her eyebrows violently.

Go with the flow, said the mother. The boy petted her on the hip and found her soft, uncorseted.

The flow? The grandma had a bright, fright smile and angry light blue eyes. Go with the flow!

Thank you, the girl said, for shopping at Bloomingdale's.

The grandma's attention was all on the mother. Is that what Communists believe? Che, she cried, waving her gloved hand as in charades.

I'm not a Communist. OK?

The boy wanted only peace. He followed up behind, his stomach churning.

Che, Che! Go with the flow! Look at you! Do you think you could make yourself a tiny bit more ridiculous?

The boy considered his illegal mother. He knew who she was although no one would say it outright. He knew her the way he was used to knowing everything important, from hints and whispers, by hearing someone talking on the phone, although this particular event was so much clearer, had been since the minute she blew into the apartment, the way she held him in her arms and squeezed the air from him and kissed his neck. He had thought of her so many nights and here she was, exactly the same, completely different—honey-colored skin and tangled hair in fifteen shades. She had Hindu necklaces, little silver bells around her ankles, an angel sent by God.

Grandma Selkirk plucked at the Hindu beads. What is this? This is what the working class is wearing now?

I am the working class, she said. By definition.

The boy squeezed the grandma's hand but she snatched it free. Where's his father? They keep showing his face on television. Is he going with the flow as well?

The boy burped quietly in his hand. No one could have heard him but Grandma brushed at the air, as if grabbing at a fly. I called him Jay because I was worried for you, she said at last. Maybe it should have been John Doe. God help me, she cried, and the crowds parted before her. Now I understand I was an idiot to worry.

The mother raised her eyebrows at the boy and, finally, reached to take his hand. He was pleased by how it folded around his, soothing, comfortable. She tickled his palm in secret. He smiled up. She smiled down. All around them Grandma raged.

For this, we paid for Harvard. She sighed. Some Rosenbergs.

The boy was deaf, in love. By now they were out on Lexington Avenue and his grandma was looking for a taxi. The first cab would be theirs, always was. Except that now his hand was inside his true mother's hand and they were marsupials running down into the subway, laughing.

In Bloomingdale's everything had been so white and bright with glistening brass. Now they raced down the steps. He could have flown.

At the turnstiles she released his hand and pushed him under. She slipped off her pack. He was giddy, giggling. She was laughing too. They had entered another planet, and as they pushed down to the platform the ceiling was slimed with alien rust and the floor was flecked and speckled with black gum—so this was the real world that had been crying to him from beneath the grating up on Lex.

They ran together to the local, and his heart was pounding and his stomach was filled with bubbles like an ice-cream float. She took his hand once more and kissed it, stumbling.

The 6 train carried him through the dark, wire skeins unraveling, his entire life changing all at once. He burped again. The cars swayed and screeched, thick teams of brutal cables showing in the windowed dark. And then he was in Grand Central first time ever and they set off underground again, hand in hand, slippery together as newborn goats.

Men lived in cardboard boxes. A blind boy rattled dimes and quarters in a tin. The S train waited, painted like a warrior, and they jumped together and the doors closed as cruel as traps, chop, chop, chop, and his face was pushed against his mother's jasmine dress. Her hand held the back of his head. He was underground, as Cameron in 5D had predicted. They will come for you, man. They'll break you out of here.

In the tunnels between Times Square and Port Authority a passing freak raised his fist. Right On! he called.

He knew you, right?

She made a face.

He's SDS?

She could not have expected that—he had been studying politics with Cameron.

PL? he asked.

She sort of laughed. Listen to you, she said. Do you know what SDS stands for?

Students for a Democratic Society, he said. PL is Progressive Labor. They're the Maoist fraction. See, you're famous. I know all about you.

I don't think so.

You're sort of like the Weathermen.

I'm what?

I'm pretty sure.

Wrong fraction, baby.

She was teasing him. She shouldn't. He had thought about her every day, forever, lying on the dock beside the lake, where she was burnished, angel sunlight. He knew his daddy was famous too, his face on television, a soldier in the fight. David has changed history.

They waited in line. There was a man with a suitcase tied with bright green rope. He had never been anyplace like this before.

Where are we going? There was a man whose face was cut by lines like string through Grandma's beeswax. He said, This bus going to Philly, little man.

The boy did not know what Philly was.

Stay here, the mother said, and walked away. He was by himself. He did not like that. The mother was across the hallway talking to a tall thin woman with an unhappy face. He went to see what was happening and she grabbed his arm and squeezed it hard. He cried out. He did not know what he had done.

You hurt me.

Shut up, Jay. She might as well have slapped his legs. She was a stranger, with big dark eyebrows twisted across her face.

You called me Jay, he cried.

Shut up. Just don't talk.

You're not allowed to say shut up.

Her eyes got big as saucers. She dragged him from the ticket line and when she released her hold he was still mad at her. He could have run away but he followed her through a beat-up swing door and into a long passage with white cinder blocks and the smell of pee everywhere and when she came to a doorway marked facility, she turned and squatted in front of him.

You've got to be a big boy, she said.

I'm only seven.

I won't call you Che. Don't you call me anything.

Don't you say shut up.


Can I call you Mom?

She paused, her mouth open, searching in his eyes for something.

You can call me Dial, she said at last, her color gone all high.



What sort of name is that. It's a nickname, baby. Now come along. She held him tight against her and he once more smelled her lovely smell. He was exhausted, a little sick feeling.

What is a nickname?

A secret name people use because they like you.

I like you, Dial. Call me by my nickname too.

I like you, Jay, she said. They bought the tickets and found the bus and soon they were crawling through the Lincoln Tunnel and out into the terrible misery of the New Jersey Turnpike. It was the first time he actually remembered being with his mother. He carried the Bloomingdale's bag cuddled on his lap, not thinking, just startled and unsettled to be given what he had wanted most of all.

From the Hardcover edition.
Peter Carey|Author Q&A

About Peter Carey

Peter Carey - His Illegal Self

Photo © Heike Steinweg

PETER CAREY is the author of twelve previous novels and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he has lived in New York City for the past twenty years.

Peter Carey is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (http://www.rhspeakers.com).

Author Q&A

Q: HIS ILLEGAL SELF takes place in the early '70s amidst the radical politics and social constructs of the time. What drew you to write about this period?

A: I had very fond memories of living in what you might call a hippie community—in tropical Queensland more than thirty years ago. This was a radical place, although not in the sense your question suggests. I was drawn back there because I wanted to inhabit that space, that rainforest, that lovely humid fecund air. Of course my main characters—Che and Dial—are from New York and Boston and they won’t like that environment at all. But that’s their point of view, not mine.

For me it was a strong desire to reinvent a magical place. So that’s the first step towards His Illegal Self.

Q: Did particular experiences there inform the book?

A: Yes and no. I found my story by worrying at some things that really did happen long ago but they are not in the book at all.

There was a young Texan who came to live in the community. He had no idea where he was. It must have seemed like the end of the earth to him, and we subsequently discovered that he must have been hoping it was—he was on the run for a drugs charge. What he didn’t understand was that he had come to provincial Queensland, where we suffered under a famously corrupt government and a very bent malevolent police force. It was the last place to hide. There was a terrifying police raid to catch him which only increased our general paranoia. We truly believed that our phone calls were listened in to.

These were basic elements from life—the American who doesn't know where on earth he is, the police raid, the pervasive paranoia, trying to shove twenty cent pieces in a call box to make an international call. But I didn’t want to write about a drug smuggler. This is a very different story.

Q: What was the starting point for the novel?

A: I began with the vision of two fugitive Americans, this hippie mother (as I thought of her), Dial, and this little boy, Che, walking along a Queensland road. There is a huge scary storm coming. All the cars are coming the other way, their lights on in the middle of the day. These hitch-hikers have no idea of where one earth they are.

Q: Well the relationship between Dial and Che is...

A: ...more complicated than I at first imagined. At the start I was not even sure what they were running from. How did they get into this mess? I didn't know.

Q: In the book, Che asks Dial, "Why is bad to be American, Dial?"As an Australian living in Australia at that time, what were the prevailing feelings towards Americans? Are there are any parallels between then and now?

A: The simplest answer is: the times are similar. Australia had troops in Vietnam like we do in Iraq. We were a client state. We had a colonial habit of fighting other people's wars. Australian boys were conscripted to fight your war in Vietnam. There was a huge anti-war movement. 70,000 people marched in Melbourne alone. So there was, amongst a majority of the population, a colossal hatred for American imperial power, but all of this was complicated by our admiration and affection, not only for the American anti-war movement, but for all those great artists who made up a broader cultural resistance.

Q: Che carries papers with him wherever he goes. Why?

A: Some kids with very safe and ordinary lives—and Che is not one of them—are like magpies about their "stuff." Che needs his "stuff" more than most of us. The things he carries stand for people he loves, parents he's lost, fragments of happiness he will not relinquish.

Q: In the book, you write a conversation between Dial and Che:

"Che, talk to me."

"I'm Jay," he said. He did not have many ways to hurt her.

Throughout the novel, people are disguised, names are changed, and identities confused
Che comes to be called simply "the boy" at certain points. Were you interested in how labels and names come to define identity, and how they can be played one against the other?

A: I found myself doing this instinctively. If it works in just the way you say, that supports the powerful logic and order of what we call intuition.

Q. Trevorone of the feral hippies that take Dial and Che in, for a priceDial, and Che have a complicated relationship that runs from derision to love and a sense of connection. Were these adoptive and seemingly strange parental relationships between the intended to make a statement about the notion of family?

A: My friends read the book this way. For myself, I was heading towards a moment in Che's life where he would know, without any doubt, that he was deeply and fully loved.

Q: How did you come to the voice of a seven-year old boy from Park Avenue?

A: Don’t want to sound too woo-woo about this, but voices do come to me. They are not the result of observation or study, but—like Hugh in my novel Theft for instance—come from some place that one might describe—if it did not run the risk of sounding self-congratulatory—as magical. But also we have all been children so it isn't hard for any of us to see the world from that point of view.

Q: Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, said the following of HIS ILLEGAL SELF: "This isn't the first fictional work to explore the militant radical underground of the late 1960s and early '70s, but it may well be the best." Why do you think many readers feel you captured the essence of the time and movement, when there's little discussion of the actual politics or radical views of the time?

A: What we call a "time" is the water the society is swimming in, the political air it is breathing. It is not the models of cars, or music or fashions. It is the earth we are standing on, the great slow tectonic plates of historical change. If I do my work properly and have my characters REALLY living in the seventies then the values, the conflicts, the ideas, the radical movements will be contained in the very molecules of their breathe.
And yes, readers do say I have captured the essence of time and movement. God bless them. Writing a novel is a slightly mad and very risky thing. It is so pleasing to feel you might possibly have succeeded.

Q: You now direct the MFA program in writing at Hunter College. Howif at allhas teaching and advising students changed either your writing or your approach to writing?

A: I work with all my students very closely. I inhabit their stories and novels at the level of the line, the sentence, the paragraph. I do this not in order to make them write like me, but in order for them to be most effectively themselves. I have to become almost a part of their blood stream. In doing this, in becoming 'them', in also questioning every sentence, every word, in looking, with them, for what is false, inauthentic, overwritten or just not the point, I have made myself a better writer. One word cut from a sentence makes a better sentence. The removal of dead wood can reveal the most gorgeous jewels. I aim for work which is unlike anything, where all is new, nothing is superfluous. Same for them. Same for me.



“Magnificent. . . . Alluring, unexpected, and intensely moving.” —The Boston Globe “Exhilarating. . . . Reading this novel is like peering at the human heart. . . . An adventure story for the modern, tormented soul.” —The New York Review of Books “A beautiful new novel. . . . Carey's stark language imbues the narrative with suspense, and his characters feel absolutely real. He's crafted an unconventional love story that's a striking portrait of the counterculture's dregs.”—People “Enthralling. . . . His close portrait of the relationship between one benighted woman and the child who depends on her is exquisite.” —The New York Times Book Review His Illegal Self develops the kind of emotional impact that renders it enriching and satisfying . . . Carey is still the master . . . The genius of the novel is his portrayal of Che.”—Washington Post Book World“Carey’s often beautiful novel, one of his best recent works, has the bruising tang of all his fiction . . . The result is brilliantly vital . . . On the second page, we [are] caught by a voice, and held for the next two hundred pages . . . Funny and forlorn.”—James Wood, The New Yorker“Carey once again proves himself to be a master of perspective . . . Visceral and beautifully written . . . Carey reminds us of a time in America when people risked everything for a cause, for the dream of a better country. Ultimately, though, His Illegal Self is a love story–one between a young boy, longing for a love from his past, and a woman whose unexpected love for a boy forever alters her fate.”—San Francisco Chronicle“Carey is a prose Pied Piper, a dazzling stylist whose work possesses mythic elements. Once he launches into a tale, he’s always worth following . . . Carey enters fully into the character of Che, who is neither snarky nor cloying [but] utterly compelling . . . The story moves along at a thriller’s pace.”—Miami Herald“Reading this novel is like peering at the human heart, at the world itself, through the distorted precision of a magnifying glass–one carried in the pocket of a seven-year-old boy . . . One of the wonders of Carey’s work is that his great, urgent narratives, so turbulent, so dark, so grand, are at the same time animated by such conscious and playful craft, as well as by a profound comic awareness . . . His Illegal Self, like his other work, is an adventure story for the modern, tormented soul.”—Cathleen Schine, New York Review of Books“Carey is a thoroughly modern writer, smashing genre boundaries, ranging in tone from wild comedy to grim tragedy, viewing the past with a decidedly contemporary eye and firmly placing late 20th century adventures in social and cultural context. This breadth of experience and abilities enriches Carey’s latest novel.’”–Los Angeles Times Book Review “Carey has a matchless imagination. His novels are hallucinogenic in their visual intensity and breathtaking in their Dickensian plot twists . . . The supreme gift to the reader is Carey’s portrait of a scared little boy who becomes brave. [It’s] the best reason to pick up this novel, sit down and not get up until it’s done.”–Seattle Times“Carey’s gift for creating voices is so real that we can almost hear the words. This gift adds to our deep involvement with his characters, who are among the most sympathetic collection of ruffians, losers and damaged human beings in contemporary literature . . . He has once again created an elegant, touching and often funny story.” –Cleveland Plain DealerHis Illegal Self [left] me brimming with admiration . . . What’s evident right from the start here is how vividly, and tenderly Carey has inhabited his central character . . . There are times when his ability to empathise with a small child recalls, and comes close to matching, David Copperfield . . . The result is a richly absorbing novel which can be relished for the beauties of its prose and the pertinence of its themes, as well as for the progressively taut pull that it exerts on the emotions.”–Sunday Telegraph (U.K.) “His Illegal Self is a wonderful novel, full of hard-won truths, which nevertheless leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling of immense satisfaction .”–The Evening Standard (U.K.)“Che is as convincing a child as any I have found in the pages of a book: beady as a boy scout; innocent and yet so knowing; brimming with watery nostalgia for states he has never even known.”–The Observer (U.K.)“Carey seems to invent himself fresh each time he publishes, finding a different (but always compelling and deeply idiosyncratic) narrative voice, filling each sentence with charm and skill, and utterly sucking a reader in. Here, he has done all that again . . . Carey’s achievement here, though, is of a larger order as well, in the way he identifies, creates, rounds out and refines for us the character of Che.”–Canberra Times (Australia)“A beautiful and emotionally compelling novel . . . There is in this book a fascinating and deeply intelligent evocation of late ‘60s, early ‘70s period detail, but at its core His Illegal Self is an ancient and magnificently eerie fairy tale, about a child wise beyond his years, stolen away to the forest, undergoing every kind of mortal trial, and surviving, in a surprising state of luminous grace.”–O Magazine“A psychologically astute and diabolically suspenseful novel . . . Carey has a gift for bringing to creepy-crawly and blistering life Australia’s jungle and desert wilds. His latest spectacularly involving and supremely well made novel of life on the edge begins in New York [and] ends up in Australia . . . Carey’s unique take on the conflict between the need to belong and the dream of freedom during the days of rage over the Vietnam War is at once terrifying and mythic.”–Booklist“Peter Carey is one of the great writers in English now. This book is further proof, a book in which he’s created a little boy who is neither too precious nor too wise, a little boy on a sad hard trip with his eyes wide open, watching everything and everyone around him. He makes you think of your own past life and all you felt when you were a kid being played upon and moved about by the adults of the world. This book is another triumph, among Carey’s other wonderful books. The man can write. He seems capable of anything.”–Kent Haruf“Carey’s mastery of tone and command of point of view are very much in evidence in his latest novel, which is less concerned with period-piece politics than with the essence of identity . . . This isn’t the first fictional work to explore the militant radical underground of the late 1960s and early ’70s, but it may well be the best.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions|Teachers Guide

About the Book

“Magnificent. . . . Alluring, unexpected, and intensely moving.”
The Boston Globe

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of the new novel by two-time Booker Prize–winner Peter Carey.

About the Guide

Set in 1972, His Illegal Self tells the story of an unusual family, split apart by the radical culture of the 1960s. Seven-year-old Che has been raised by his maternal grandmother in the comforts of her quiet lake house and her lavish apartment on New York's Upper East Side. Che's mother, a radical SDS member named Susan Selkirk, has long been a wanted criminal, completely absent from her son's life. Che has wondered about his parents, and clung to the words of his teenage neighbor: “They will come for you, man. They'll break you out of here.”

One day, a young hippie woman shows up at Che's apartment, introducing herself as Dial. Whisking him away in the middle of the afternoon, Dial brings Che through the subways, bus stations, and off to Philadelphia, Oakland, Seattle, Sydney, Brisbane, and to a rainforest commune in Queensland.

Dial is an old Harvard friend of Susan's, charged with delivering young Che to his mother. But when tragedy makes this plan impossible, Dial is at loose ends. She and Che are all over the news and Dial has been accused of kidnapping the boy. Her only hope is to hide out with Che in the Australian jungles.

On this hippie commune, far off the grid of civilization, the pair settle into the dispirited limbo, coping with the peculiar rules, a strange landscape, and painful isolation. As Dial watches her academic career go up in smoke, Che wonders how his mother will ever find him in this jungle at the ends of the earth. Their isolation is enlivened by the presence of the feral English hippie, Trevor. An orphan and an outlaw, Trevor mirrors Che in many ways, teaching him how to work the land and how to survive in a dangerous, unforgiving world.

Alternately told through Che's and Dial's perspective, the novel vividly evokes Che's bewilderment and his longing for love and safety, as well as Dial's fear and regret. It also expresses, quite viscerally, the helplessness of a child in an adult world, who is totally dependent on people who rarely tell him the truth of his own situation.

A masterfully written and enigmatic novel, His Illegal Self offers a deeply unsettling look into the minds and hearts of two people who are controlled by the social and political tensions of an era.

About the Author

Peter Carey is the author of nine novels, and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he now lives in New York City.

Discussion Guides

1. Peter Carey is frequently drawn to writing about outlaws and outcasts. Why do you think this is? Why do we like to read about such characters?

2. What do you think Che's personal and social values are? How has his life been shaped by the lives of his parents, even though he has not been raised by them?

3. Anna Xenos is nicknamed “Dial” (short for dialectic) by her Harvard classmates. It's a playful nickname, given because Dial will argue both opposing sides of an argument, but do you think that the novel itself is in any way dialectical?

4. Late in the novel, Dial feels that she had “brought all this about. If only she had not done this. If only she had not done that. Everything she touched was broken” [p. 263]. Is she right? How might she have acted differently?

5. Dial tells Che, “You're a pretty amazing kid” [p. 271]. In what ways is Che an amazing kid? What is unusual about the way he sees the world?

6. Dial says of her actions: “You take the kid to the father, but the father doesn't want to know. By then you are accused of kidnapping. You get frightened. You run away. Dumb, but not criminal” [p. 245]. Do you think Dial is guilty of kidnapping, or simply of making what seems to be the best choices available in a very difficult situation?

7. In what ways does His Illegal Self illuminate the social and political tensions of the 1960s? What role does Dial's own social status, and her relationship to the Selkirk family, play?

8. Why doesn't Dial tell Che that she's not his mother? Is she simply protecting him, or does she have some unconscious motive for wishing to play the role of his mother?

9. Dial thinks that the most remarkable thing about Che was his “perfect trust” [p. 120]. Does Che lose his trust in Dial and the adults around him over the course of the novel? In what ways can His Illegal Self be read as a story about the loss of innocence?

10. Looking back, Dial regrets the moment when she took Susan Selkirk's number and, “relishing her connection with the famous,” decided to call her [p. 62]. Why does she call Susan and agree to her request? In what sense is this a major turning point in her life?

11. What is life like in the Queensland hippie commune? In what ways does the commune seem to perpetuate, rather than reject, many of the social rules and behaviors it has tried to abandon?

12. What role does Trevor play in the story? How do Che's feelings about him change over the course of the novel?

13. The novel ends with this remarkable sentence: “Even as an adult he would believe that something physical had been left inside him—small, smooth, not a pearl, more lustrous, luminous, a sort of seed which he would eventually pretend to believe was simply a memory, nothing more, that he would carry along the littered path which would be his own comic and occasionally disastrous life” [p. 272]. What is that “seed” which has been left inside Che? What kind of life do you think he is likely to have after such a childhood?

14. What does the novel reveal about our own time? Are there significant parallels between the worlds Carey describes and America's current social and political situation?

Suggested Readings

Charles Bock, Beautiful Children; Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans; Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke; Yasmina Khadra, The Sirens of Baghdad; Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude; Richard Price, Lush Life; J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.

Teacher's Guide


A Teacher’s Guide to Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self
by Gabriel Packard

NOTE: Scroll down for a link to the PDF of this teacher's guide.
Fiction writers, like magicians, must conceal their techniques in order to make the illusions they create convincing. Even books that appear to lay bare the tricks of the author’s trade–such as Tristram Shandy and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius–simultaneously deploy other techniques, which remain hidden, in order to make their plots compelling, their characters empathetic, and to help the reader generally suspend disbelief. Without exception, every great novel is a well-stocked mine of concealed writing techniques, and by examining in depth the plot, structure, language and characters of well-written novels, the novice writer can extract many valuable lessons.

It is also safe to say that all great writers are also great readers of literature and that they borrow freely from the work of their predecessors. One of the best ways to train students how to read and learn from literature, in this way, is to select one novel and over the course of a semester investigate the various writing techniques it contains.

This Teacher’s Guide is designed to help you use Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self in just this way. Each section of the guide highlights a particular technique or aspect of this novel–point of view, voice, unreliable narration, concision, rhythm, and symbolism–and includes questions for discussion to help students analyze these aspects of the novel. Exercises are also provided that will help students use each of these fiction-writing techniques in their own writing.

This guide provides a semester’s worth of fiction-writing classes, structured around His Illegal Self. Each class centers on students discussing and reading aloud from exercises set the previous week. The sections of this guide may also be used individually to focus on a single aspect of the craft of fiction.

About the Novel
His Illegal Self, set in the early 1970s, tells the story of a seven-year-old American boy, Che, whose parents live in hiding in the U.S. because they are members of a revolutionary group. Che lives with his well-to-do grandmother in New York City, and in the novel’s opening sequence, a young woman named Dial collects him from his grandmother to take him to visit his mother. However, after learning that Che’s mother has died, Dial eventually ends up taking Che to a hippie commune in Australia. After they endure various hardships, Dial finally returns Che to his grandmother in America.

The novel is written in a pared-down prose style, and it frequently switches point of view–occasionally several times within a single paragraph. Carey skillfully handles this literary challenge in addition to a number of others, such as the notoriously difficult task of using the point of view of a child character to tell parts of the story, and not using quotation marks to signal direct dialogue.

Switching Points of View
His Illegal Self typically shifts point of view (POV) several times within a chapter (e.g. Chapters 1, 8, 46) and even, on occasion, several times within a single paragraph. See, for example, the opening paragraph of Chapter 48, which starts with a Jane Austen—style, distant-third-person POV aphorism, “It is a law of childhood . . .” and then zooms in during the sentence, “That’s how it worked for the boy . . .” and then settles briefly in close-third, from Che’s POV, with, “He was ashamed of himself already...” and then zooms out again to distant-third with, “He didn’t see Trevor...”

Students may become discouraged from attempting such rapid shifting of POV in their own work, due to concerns about confusing the reader. However, shifting POV several times in rapid succession can be accomplished without causing confusion as long as the writer, throughout the text, unambiguously signals which point of view is being employed. This can give the writer freedom to jump from one character’s consciousness to another’s, or to zoom out to an omniscient point of view. In this way, the writer can track the action from whichever point of view he or she feels highlights the most important aspect of the action, just as a movie director can switch between shots filmed by different cameras.

1. List each of the main points of view used in literary fiction (first person; second person; and third person, close or limited / objective /subjective / omniscient) and give a definition and an example of each.

2. Find a passage in His Illegal Self that switches point of view at least twice.
a. Identify each point of view used in this passage.
b. Note how, exactly, the writer signals which point of view is being used.

3. What are the benefits and dangers of switching point of view frequently?

Exercise 1
Write a scene or short story in which you switch between at least two different characters’ points of view and also use an omniscient narrative voice. Switch point of view mid-paragraph at least a few times, making sure that the POV remains clear throughout.

Exercise 2
Select a favorite or familiar scene from His Illegal Self, or any other novel, in which there is a single point of view and rewrite that scene using multiple points of view.

Writing from a Child’s Point of View
Writing from a child’s point of view is a notoriously difficult thing to do, in part because there is a danger of making the child’s thoughts and feelings come off as annoyingly precious, unrealistically intelligent, or not convincingly childlike. The writer must also address the fact that children generally have a limited understanding of the world and a limited vocabulary. While observing these constraints, it can be difficult to still reveal enough to make the story and the child character interesting and plausible.

Nevertheless, His Illegal Self overcomes these obstacles, by carefully limiting the child’s voice to revealing only things that a child would convincingly think, feel, observe, or do; and also by switching to adult characters’ points of view and an omniscient point of view, in order to reveal things that the boy Che couldn’t know, such as the nuanced social and legal pressures on Dial to return Che to his home in the United States.

A class discussion of this topic might compare His Illegal Self to extracts from other works of literature that successfully use a child’s point of view, such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer; Ian McEwan’s Atonement; Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time; or Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha.

1. What are the challenges associated with writing from a child’s point of view?

2. What are the benefits of writing from a child’s point of view? How can the limitation of a child’s understanding in fact become an opportunity? How can writing from a child’s point of view free the writer in terms of language, thought, humor, irony, etc.?

3. In His Illegal Self, how does Peter Carey transcend the limitations of a child’s point of view? Look at Chapter 14, for example: “What’s happening, the boy asked. No one heard him anymore” (p. 73). How does the writer convey more about the situation, here, than Che can comprehend, even though the chapter is written in close-third from Che’s point of view?

Exercise 1
Write a scene or short story entirely from a child’s perspective, using either a first-person or a close-third-person point of view. Find ways to reveal more about the situation than the child understands.

Withholding Information from the Reader
His Illegal Self misleads the reader, in some places, by deliberately withholding crucial plot information. The most notable example of this is when the reader is misled into believing that Dial is Che’s mother, and only later is it revealed that she is not. Withholding this critical information helps the reader to experience the events of the story from Che’s point of view, who is similarly misled into believing that Dial is in fact his mother. The reader, like Che, is generally one step behind knowing what is really going on in the plot. In this way, withholding information mimetically helps to evoke Che’s experience in the reader’s mind.

1. What information does the author withhold from the reader in His Illegal Self?

2. What is the purpose and effect of withholding this information?

3. How would the reader’s experience be different if this information were revealed much earlier?

4. In what ways is withholding information from the reader different from employing an unreliable narrator?

5. Provide other examples from literature in which information is withheld and discuss its purpose and effect.

Exercise 1
Write a scene or short story in which you withhold a crucial fact from the reader until the end of the story. Make withholding this information justified, for example by making it align the reader’s experience with that of the protagonist, as Carey does in His Illegal Self.

Dialogue and Quotation Marks
One of the most distinctive stylistic features of His Illegal Self is its lack of quotation marks, or any other punctuation (such as the Joycean em-dash), to signal the beginning or end of direct dialogue. Despite the assumption that quotation marks make the reader’s life easier, His Illegal Self manages clearly to signal which text is direct dialogue and which character is speaking, without the use of quotation marks. Carey achieves this largely through carefully wording the sentences to avoid ambiguity. Look, for example, at this dialogue between Dial and Rebecca on p. 166:

This is what you did to me, Rebecca said. You bring your cat into the valley. This is what you do. They’re sentient beings, she said, nudging a feathered corpse with her big toe.
They’re what?
In Buddhism, began Rebecca.
I know what sentient means.
Rebecca narrowed her eyes. Then you should know that your cat is destroying our environment and you’ve got a choice. You can get rid of this cat or we’ll get rid of you.

Note how clear it is that that first clause (“This is what you did to me”) is direct dialogue, despite having no quotation marks around it. Also note how clear it is that the last sentence in that paragraph is half direct dialogue “They’re sentient beings” and half narrative description “she said, nudging a feathered corpse with her big toe.”
It is a useful exercise for students to write the dialogue in their fiction, without using quotation marks, as this will force them to think carefully about how to compose clear, unambiguous, well-organized sentences–a universally important skill for any writer.

1. What is the effect on the reader, of having no quotation marks in His Illegal Self?

2. How specifically does Carey signal direct dialogue in the absence of quotation marks?

3. How does Carey use the rhythm of sentences to clarify where direct dialogue begins and ends?

4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using quotation marks?

5. John Steinbeck’s novella Burning Bright is subtitled A Play in Story Form and was designed to allow the direct dialogue to be lifted directly from the text and performed on stage. Could His Illegal Self be considered “a play in novel form”? Does the lack of quotation marks add a theatrical element to His Illegal Self?

Exercise 1
Write a scene or short story with lots of dialogue, but without any quotation marks to signal where the dialogue begins and ends.

Exercise 2
Are other punctuation marks expendable, in the same way that quotation marks can be? Write a scene or short story with no punctuation other than periods, capital letters, and paragraph breaks. You might look at Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang for an example of good, clear writing with minimal punctuation.


Write a scene or short story with no punctuation at all. Make every sentence unambiguously clear.

Trimming the Fat
Another distinctive stylistic feature of His Illegal Self–and of Carey’s recent work, in general–is its lean sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. The text is trimmed down to its bare essentials, and the sentences are generally short and grammatically simple:

The Crystal Community had no money. Its members stared at her, away from her. A bare-bottomed blond-haired child pissed out from the edge of the floor. The pee went into the wild lantana, a long clean arc of crystal (p. 138).
In this paragraph Carey effectively describes the community in just four short sentences of 6, 8, 14, and 13 words, respectively, averaging 10.5 words. This is lean prose.

1. What is the effect on the reader, of using the spare prose style employed in His Illegal Self? What is gained? Is anything sacrificed?

2. Because everything is pared down to its bare essentials, when Carey gives a long, detailed description, it stands out. Look, for example, at the description of the Volvo in the tree on p. 145. What is the effect of spending so long describing this one object? What else is the writer conveying, beyond just describing the appearance of this car?

Exercise 1
Take a short story or chapter that you’ve written. Reduce it to one-third of its existing length. Delete all words, sentences, paragraphs, plot events, descriptions, etc., that aren’t absolutely essential.

Exercise 2
Take ten pages from a novel by Dickens, Thackeray, or another writer who tends to be verbose, and reduce that original ten-page extract to three pages, without losing anything essential. Analyze the effect of reducing the prose in this way. What exactly is gained and what is lost?

Exercise 3
Although the language Carey uses in his novel is pared down, it remains evocative, vivid and poignant, and it could be described as poetic. Take a short extract from His Illegal Self and then reformat it–without altering the words or punctuation–as a free-verse poem.

Fiction writers can alter the rhythm of their prose–and thereby help evoke mood, alter the pacing, and fine-tune the reader’s experience in a range of other ways–through varying sentence length and paragraph length, adjusting the mix of monosyllabic versus polysyllabic words, the frequency of adjectives, and so forth. Teaching students to hear the rhythms of their own work can be a rewarding exercise–both to help them become more aware of rhythm as readers experience it, in the silence of the page, and also to help students perform their own work aloud in an engaging way.
The rhythms in His Illegal Self can be best appreciated by listening to the author reading from it: http://www.themonthly.com.au/tm/node/940 (This recording is from the 2008 Adelaide Writers’ Week, in Australia.)

There are many tools at the writer’s disposal for controlling the rhythm of the words in a sentence. A writer can, for example, introduce parenthetic clauses and interjections, like this one, at particular points in the sentence to give the reader a little pause and thereby alter the sentence’s rhythm. The same thing can be done by carefully choosing the position of speech tags, such as “he said,” in direct dialogue, creating the effect of a pause in the character’s speech, and, again, altering the rhythm of the sentence. The writer can also control the rhythm through word choice, sentence structure, and sentence length, analogous to the way a poet controls the meter of a poem.

In order to fine-tune the rhythm of a sentence, a writer must first learn to hear rhythm. And the best way for a writer to hear the rhythm of his or her own sentences is to read them aloud, listening for anything that sounds awkward, repetitive, or that causes him or her to stumble.

When reading work to an audience, writers should underscore the rhythm of their language by varying the pitch, tone, and volume of their voice to express the nuances of the situation being narrated. Writers should also be careful to avoid the all-too-common “literary-reading drone” in which every line is delivered in the same sonorous pitch; this is designed to add gravitas to the words, but generally serves only to numb the minds of those listening.

1. What roles does rhythm play in prose fiction?

2. Identify and characterize the different rhythms of the language in His Illegal Self.

3. Discuss any passages in which you feel the rhythm is particularly pronounced or that it underscores the action or mood.

4. List some ways that writers can alter the rhythm of prose.

Exercise 1
Take a story or chapter that you’ve written or are currently working on and read it aloud at least ten times, each time rewriting any sentences in which the rhythm feels awkward. Print out before and after versions and bring them to read aloud in class. Be prepared to explain how your edits affected the rhythm and flow of your piece.

Exercise 2
Prepare a page of fiction to read aloud in an interesting and expressive way.

Exercise 3
Search online for recordings of writers reading their work aloud. Find examples of good and poor readings, and note what factors affected their quality.

Using the Weather and the Physical World
His Illegal Self is a book in which descriptions of the weather and the physical world do more than just inform the reader about temperature, light conditions, precipitation, and the appearance of the scenery. Rather, these descriptions invariably also evoke and underscore the atmosphere of the scene in which they feature and the psychological states of the protagonists. For example, Che’s positive feelings about being on a bus with a woman he believes to be his mother, are underscored by the description, from Che’s point of view: “The windshield glass was starred with sunlight” (p. 12). Carey could just as easily have described this windshield with a negative slant, for example, by writing, “The windshield glass was smeared with sunlight,” or “The sunlight showed the dirt on the windshield.” But these descriptions would have subtly suggested to the reader that Che’s psychological state was less positive and would have infused the scene with a different atmosphere.

Similarly, see how the following description of the unforgiving, parched landscape of the Australian bushland underscores Che’s feelings of isolation:
The boy looked out across the waving trees. Everything was hard and dry, dead leaves, cracking sticks, no mercy. He thought, This does not apply to me (Chap. 34, p. 171.).

1. In His Illegal Self what information does the writer impart when describing the weather and the physical world, beyond just telling the reader about the temperature, precipitation, appearance of the light, appearance of the scenery, etc.?

2. What is the advantage of conveying this additional information simultaneously to describing the weather and the physical world? Why not convey this additional information separately?

Exercise 1
Record your own observations of the weather in a weekly weather diary. Also note down good descriptions of the weather that you come across in literature. At the start of each class, one or two people will read from their weather diaries.

Exercise 2
Write a scene or short story in which descriptions of the weather evoke the atmosphere and the psychological states of the protagonist/s. You may like to draw from the observations you recorded in your weather diary to assist you.

Extended Symbols
Symbols help the writer to underscore specific aspects of the narrative. Here are two writers’ takes on how symbolism functions in literature:

… a symbol is like a rock dropped into a pool: it sends out ripples in all directions, and the ripples are in motion. Who can say where the last ripple disappears? One may have a sense that he at least knows approximately the center point of all those ripples, the point at which the stone struck the water. Yet even then he has trouble marking it precisely. How does one make a mark on water? (John Ciardi from How Does a Poem Mean?)

I think that for the fiction writer himself, symbols are something he uses simply as a matter of course. You might say that these are details that, while having their essential place in the literal level of the story, operate in depth as well as on the surface, increasing the story in every direction.
I think that the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up. (Flannery O’Connor, from “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose)

You may like to share one or both of these quotes with your students.

His Illegal Self uses a number of extended symbols: symbols that recur in multiple scenes and that parallel the fluctuating dynamic of a particular element of a character or relationship, thereby subtly highlighting that element. Two examples:

1. Che’s cat, Buck, symbolizes Che himself. Dial’s fight to keep Buck in order to please someone other than herself parallels the way in which she reluctantly fights to keep Che to please the revolutionary group. Later, when Che gets lost in the bush, Buck gets trapped in the “Feral-Trappa” cat-trap. When the cat dies and Dial buries him, Dial also simultaneously believes that Che is dead. These parallels become gradually more explicit, until the characters themselves begin to notice them. Rebecca, for instance, makes the following comparison: “You can’t look after that cat. . . .You can’t even look after the kid” (p. 199) and Dial thinks: “She [Dial] killed her cat. She killed her boy” (p. 214).

2. The wooden fence palings that Dial nails to the inside walls of her cabin, but cannot get to lay flat, symbolize the futility of her situation in keeping Che in Australia. When she first shows the wood paneling to Che she tells him: “Those crooked nails are there to keep the boards flat while they dry. After that we’ll cover the space between with other bits of wood.” Whereupon Che immediately thinks, “He could not live here” (p. 190). Dial can pin neither the wood nor Che down, nor get them to fall into line with her plans.

1. What might Che’s cat, Buck, symbolize?

2. What might the wooden fence palings that Dial nails to her cabin walls be said to symbolize? What about the “crooked nails”? And the cabin itself?

3. Identify other symbols in His Illegal Self. Is there a consistency or connection among the symbols?

4. How does Carey integrate these symbols into the story without making them feel contrived? Do you agree with John Ciardi and Flannery O’Connor (see quotations above) that symbols work beneath the surface of a novel?

Exercise 1
Take a scene, chapter, or short story that you have written, and rewrite it introducing an extended symbol that underscores a particularly important aspect of one of the characters or relationships.

The ending of a story or novel needs to resolve plausibly the events of the plot in order to create the feeling of resolution and completeness that most readers expect from of a work of narrative fiction. This sense of resolution is achieved at the ending of His Illegal Self by having Dial return Che to America. This resolves Che’s main conflict: that he had been trapped in a place where he did not belong and where, despite achieving some personal growth, he could not integrate. It also resolves Dial’s main conflicts: that she, too, had ended up in a place where she did not belong and could not integrate, and also that she needed a way out of her increasingly untenable position of reluctant kidnapper. In addition, Che’s grandmother has her own conflict resolved: she sought the return of her beloved grandson, and, in the end, he is indeed returned to her.

1. What are the characteristics of a good ending?

2. Does the ending of His Illegal Self have these characteristics?

3. How might His Illegal Self have ended differently, but still achieved a satisfying conclusion to the story?

Exercise 1
Write an alternative ending to His Illegal Self. Take it from “At the Brisbane GPO there were police everywhere, like ants pouring from a nest” (Chap. 52, p. 258).

Using Research
Research can be a useful tool for the fiction writer. Its most obvious function is to provide background information on political, historical, and cultural context to help the writer avoid anachronisms and factual inaccuracies that may distract the reader and awaken him or her from the “vivid, continuous dream” (to borrow John Gardner’s phrase) that good fiction should induce. Research is also a good way for writers to find convincing descriptive details to sprinkle into the text to help create a sense of authority, even when writing about a subject, place, or time period they know little about. And research can even contribute to plot structure by presenting obstacles that the characters must work to overcome.

Here’s an example from His Illegal Self that demonstrates all three of the uses of research described above: In the early 1970s, Australian public pay phones didn’t allow international phone calls. This detail avoids a distracting anachronism for those familiar with the time period; it functions as a convincing detail that helps bolster the writer’s authority on that time and place; and it also serves as an obstacle that forces Dial to go to the Brisbane GPO (general post office), which is swarming with police, in order to make her phone call (p. 258), thereby putting herself in danger of getting arrested.

Research can also provide solutions to characters’ obstacles. In His Illegal Self, for example, the revolutionary group gives Dial a large amount of cash and a passport for Che to help her take him to Australia. And in writing the novel, Peter Carey researched U.S.-based revolutionary groups of the 1960s and 1970s, most notably the Weathermen, a group that aimed to overthrow the U.S. government and capitalism itself, via bombings, jailbreaks, riots, and other illegal activities. Members lived in hiding and commonly used fraudulently obtained passports.

1. Why do fiction writers need to conduct research? If they are writing fiction, why not just make everything up?

2. How, specifically, can factual errors undermine the reader’s experience of a work of fiction?

3. How can research help writers to create the illusion of having authority on a subject that they actually know little about?

4. Is it possible to do too much research for a piece of fiction?

Exercise 1
1. Some of the books that Carey used to research His Illegal Self are listed below. Look at one or more of these books (or other books on 1960s American revolutionary groups) and write a short story or a scene, based on your reading.

With the Weathermen: The Personal Journey of a Revolutionary Woman (Rutgers University Press, 2007) by Susan Stern. Memoir by a female member of the Weathermen

Push Comes to Shove: The Escalation of Student Protest (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1970) by Steven Kelman. Discussion of student protest movement in the 1960s. The Weathermen was a splinter group of the group Students for a Democratic Society.

The Whole Earth Catalogue (Whole Earth, various editions dating from 1968) by Stewart Brand. Wide-ranging “hippie” reference guide, popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Much of this can now be found online at www.wholeearth.com.

Exercise 2
Pick an article from The Whole Earth Catalogue (www.wholeearth.com) and base a scene or short story on it. Be sure to look at the “Free” sections (Free Money, Free Bus Rides, Free Phone Calls, etc.), which are a great source of descriptive details and solutions to obstacles. For example, from the September 1970 edition, p. 12:

Free phone calls: “A number 14 brass washer with a small piece of Scotch tape over one side of the hole will work in old style phones (also parking meters, Laundromat dryers, soda and other vending machines).”
Free money: “Panhandling nets some people up to twenty dollars a day. The best places are Third Avenue in the fifties and the Theatre District off Times Square. Both best in the evening on weekends. Uptown guys with dates are the best touch especially if they are just leaving a guilt movie like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Free bus rides: “Get on with a large denomination bill just as the bus is leaving.”

Exercise 3
During the course of the semester, research a specific event or person from the American 1960s revolutionary movement. Each week, a few people from the class will report on what they’ve found in their research. Write a fictional short story based on this research for submission at the end of the semester.

Mapping the Novel
Drawing up a visual representation of a novel’s plot and locales can be immeasurably helpful in illuminating its structure. The following exercise should be assigned to students near the start of the semester, so that students may think about the “shape” of the novel as they examine different elements of it. This exercise is intentionally open to interpretation, and students should be encouraged to interpret it freely.

Exercise 1
Create a visual representation–some kind of diagram–of the plot of His Illegal Self.

Some His Illegal Self Resources
Peter Carey discusses His Illegal Self on Australian TV

Peter Carey discusses, then reads from, His Illegal Self at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2008:
Part 1: http://www.themonthly.com.au/tm/node/942
Part 2: http://www.themonthly.com.au/tm/node/940

Q&A with Peter Carey, about His Illegal Self

About the Author of This Guide
Gabriel Packard has worked as a researcher for the novelists E. L. Doctorow and Peter Carey, and as an assistant to the literary agent Nicole Aragi. He holds a BA in English from Oxford University and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Hunter College, where he now works as Coordinator of the Creative Writing MFA Program. His journalism has appeared in more than one hundred publications worldwide including The Village Voice, The Writer magazine, Poets & Writers, and New York Magazine’s online edition. His awards include a Hertog Fellowship in fiction and the Miriam Weinberg Richter Memorial Award for Conspicuous Ability, which he received for his paper on a possible neurological basis for narrative structure. He is currently completing his first novel.



Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide

  • His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
  • February 10, 2009
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction
  • Vintage
  • $14.95
  • 9780307276490

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: