In Australian slang, an illywhacker is a country fair con man, an unprincipled seller of fake diamonds and dubious tonics. And Herbert Badgery, the 139-year-old narrator of Peter Carey's uproarious novel, may be the king of them all. Vagabond and charlatan, aviator and car salesman, seducer and patriarch, Badgery is a walking embodiment of the Australian national character—espcially of its proclivity for tall stories and barefaced lies.
As Carey follows this charming scoundrel across a continent and a century, he creates a crazy quilt of outlandish encounters, with characters that include a genteel dowager who fends off madness with an electric belt and a ravishing young girl with a dangerous fondness for rooftop trysts. Boldly inventive, irresistibly odd, Illywhacker is further proof that Peter Carey is one of the most enchanting writers at work in any hemisphere.