The King Redward Hotel welcomes finalists in the Perfecto Shampoo ‘Perfecto Kiddo’ competition.
‘Perfecto Kiddo,’ said Sam. ‘It’s not even English. It doesn’t make sense.’
‘Why would it make sense, kiddo?’ Earl Kellow grinned. ‘It’s a nonsensical situation. It’s a whole lot of crazy parents trying to make money from their children.’
When Sam Kellow and his parents arrive in Toronto, Sam knows they are in a lot of trouble. Their money is almost gone and his mum can’t find the millionaire who is going to buy her latest painting. But that night, when Sam sleep walks his way around the hotel, he meets Nasty Muriel and Droopy George, two desperate parents who force Sam to enter the Perfecto Kiddo competition. Their own son, Wilfred, has chickenpox.
Sam realises that if he can win the competition he will be able to help his parents, so he goes along with the idea, even though it means having his hair curled and learning to dance. If he can win the Big Bazoohley – $10 000 – his family’s problems will be solved.
The Big Bazoohley is a fun children’s novel from one of Australia’s most decorated authors, Peter Carey. His novels for adults, including The True History of the Kelly Gang and Oscar and Lucinda have twice won the Booker Prize as well as numerous other awards. The Big Bazoohley is Carey’s only novel for children, and is sure to delight.
The Big Bazoohley, by Peter Carey
Random House, 2006
Reviewed by Alex Marshall
The novel is a tour de force. Peter Carey tackles one of the great myths of Australia, the figure of Ned Kelly, by recreating the unlettered Irish Australian voice of the angry young man that was Ned Kelly.
Peter Carey’s Ned Kelly is a decent young man, idealistic and naive, who is pushed into rebellion by the bullying of the corrupt and incompetent local police force. He is hard working, clean living, optimistic, strong willed and free spirited. The style of writing appears odd at first but as you read you become used to his style. It is catchy.
Peter Carey does not downplay Ned Kelly’s criminal background, rather he puts this to the foreground. Much of the novel is taken up with his apprenticeship with a bushranger. He puts this behind him, however, until his family is persecuted by the local forces of property owners and police.
Sometimes the style of the writing seems too Australian, as if this book was written with an eye to a foreign readership. It is as if it has to be proved that Ned Kelly is an Australian character and not a second hand Jesse James. As the Nobel prize winning writer Wole Soyinke once pointed out a tiger does not need to proclaim its tigerness.
At other times it seems as if the Kelly gang is being Americanised. For example when members of the gang ride in white dresses a link is made with Irish vigilante gangs, but also there is an unspoken comparison with the American Ku-Klux-Klan.
Overall this is a powerful novel that puts a new spin on a great Australian folk legend.
The True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey
Alex Marshall is a freelance writer and reviewer. You can visit his webpage here.