Book #58: Jack Maggs

Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs is a contemporary re-imagining of Dickens’ Great Expectations, which is why it was my next book.

It’s basically told from the convict’s point of view. Some of the names and circumstances have been changed, but they’re easily recognizable as the characters from Dickens’ original novel. In other words, I basically just read some Charles Dickens fanfiction that became literature in its own right.

But I assure you, Jack Maggs is definitely a worthy read in it’s own right. This isn’t like some 50 Shades of Gray situation or anything. (Though, this is “fanfiction” derived from something that’s actually good, instead of, well, Twilight.)

In Carey’s imagining of the characters, Jack Maggs is an Australian who has fallen on very hard times. He spent years arrested and locked up in England, and is fixated on the young boy who helped him when he escaped from prison. He financed the boy’s education, and now that he is free, he wants to see the young man and become a part of his life. The problem? He can’t find him.

Maggs winds up mixing with the people who live next to the house he secretly provided for his young “ward.” Take a good mystery and manhunt and add in a little bit of “new agey” hypnotism and magic, and you have an unlikely combination of plot elements and characters that makes up Jack Maggs.

It sounds weird, but the book was actually quite enjoyable. I went in knowing that it was a “re-imagining” of Great Expectations, and I was worried that it would read more like the “fan-fiction” I mentioned earlier, or that it would seem too gimmicky, but Carey did well. It felt like its own book, while still making it fun for astute readers to identify familiar characters and plot points from Dickens’ novel. 

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Scarlet Letter

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