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Watershed Book Cafe: A Quiet Place to Read

Cover Image of Jack MaggsA Response to Jack Maggs    

by Arthur Paul Patterson

LITERARY SCHOLARS HAVE called Jack Maggs a post-colonial re-telling of Dickens' Great Expectations. As I read it, Jack Maggs, by the witty Australian author Peter Carey, is a deconstruction of Charles Dickens himself. The message tears apart the pretensions and presuppositions of the great man, turning the original message of Great Expectations on its head and giving us a more satisfactory resolution than the original. Carey plunks Dickens down among his characters demanding that he deal with the conundrums he so easily sets for others. It might be best to read Jack Maggs with a copy of Peter Ackroyd's biography, Dickens, at your side to see just how scathing his fictional critique is. Carey not only takes up the message of Dickens creatively but writes Jack Maggs with all the descriptive beauty of a Dickens novel. The 19th Century comes alive in its writhing, steaming stench and its sepia coloration; his characters are no less odious or creatively crafted. Best of all is Maggs himself a self-rehabilitated ex-con who comes to see what his expectations of his adopted son have amounted to. In following his obsession Maggs learns what can be expected and that the unexpected might be the best after all. 

Carey, Peter. Jack Maggs. Toronto: Random House, 1998. 306 pages.

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