|FABER & FABER|
the guardian Sat 28 February 2009
Che's mother was a hippy; worse, she was a leftwing activist in 60s America, and after she abandoned him to be brought up in New York by his well-to-do grandmother, he was renamed Jay, out of shame. As the years pass, Che clings to the idea that his parents will come back for him, and he collects scraps of information to try to build a picture of them. When a hippy woman with a backpack comes to visit him at the age of eight, he remembers her and his craving for a mother's love is sated at last. A series of deft twists then subverts the plot and plunges the boy into a nightmarish world so far beyond his experience that it seems of a piece with the psychedelic counterculture. The action switches to Carey's home territory, where his descriptions of the Australian rainforest as seen through the boy's eyes are written with profound knowledge as well as a visceral sense of otherness. Che's capacity to grasp truths instinctively, in the face of so much dishonesty and shame, makes him a powerful focus for this fierce novel of displacement and despair.