on 25 April 2009
Never has a story of two such peculiar individuals been so beautifully told. At first, I'll admit the novel for me was slow to begin with and being an impatient reader, I struggled to get into it. Although please carry on, for although the plot will not necessarily drive you quickly onwards, the characters Carey creates will hopefully grip you as they did me and almost force you to carry on reading. Simply, there are no disposable characters; the story is pushed forward by the actions of the characters and not what is usually seen where writers create simple characters to fit into the story (Think Rosencrantz & Guildenstein).
The setting of the novel is equally impressive; Carey brings 19th century Australia back into existence for the purpose of shaping and testing his creations, and it is through these conflicts that you will learn to love and hate the author for what he does to your characters. Carey isn't satisfied to give a simple description of Australia, he must make sure you feel the anger of the natives, the pressures of society in 19th century Sydney, the atmosphere in the gambling houses.
Running throughout the novel are many themes, some grand, some not, but all relevant. For instance what makes a good father? or Son?, what are the aspects of faith? is love always an obsession? Every chapter has within it a deeper story to tell.
All this adds up to an amazing book, one that I'm sure I'll read countless times in my life.
on 15 August 2005
Reviewer: Bianca from Marlow UK
All that denial and pain and hopes of redemption getting dashed... I felt like my heart had been attacked with a cheesegrater by the time I finished, this book is SAVAGELY sad. Squint, though, and you will see a glittering dark humour in the tragedy as unworldly Oscar is brought down to earth with a crunch and independent Lucinda sees the precipice she approaches too late so high does she hold her head. But they are the most wonderful characters (of course they are, if Carey hadn't made me feel so tenderly for them I wouldn't want to beat him up right now).
Carey's prose has a haunting sensuality to it, especially considering that any sex which does go on is very much on the periphery, just out of sight. Instead, like the luminous descriptions of sea life so lovingly written by Oscar's bible bashing father, every sentence tingles with the beauty of minute observation. It heightens your senses so delicately that whenever pain and discomfort descend upon a character (most of the time) it positively stings. And wrap up warm when reading the Devon chapters.
A 'Spectator' review calls it Dickensian, which should give you some idea of the scope, the complexity, and the universe of characters delineated within. Like Dickens you will find Carey has an eye for detail and an appreciation of the ridiculous which is often biting. These frail creatures play out their lives on the backdrop of colonial Australia, a place where progress is at war with the harsh forces of nature and frail notions of 'civilisation' tainted with the blood of the culture it seeks to replace.
And I haven't even mentioned the gambling, but then I think that it is better understood as a device, a prism would be an appropriate comparison considering the glass theme. Through this prism we see the complex characters of Oscar and Lucinda refracted into bands of conflicting desires and compulsions. Also this idea of Oscar's, that to chose God and a life of renunciation is itself a gamble; the bet of your worldly life for the winnings of the afterlife.
It's not a sure thing that you'll enjoy this book, but take a chance on it anyway, that's my tip.
on 15 May 2011
I have had this book on my shelf for over 20 years, but have now been moved to read it; perhaps it is only now that I am able to fully appreciate it. The beauty of this book is, I think, more in the way that its story is told, the writing, than the story itself. I love the way in which Peter Carey finely draws and depicts his characters and the rooms and landscapes they inhabit. He creates for us an embroidery of each one comprising their appearance, physical attributes, subtle foibles and psychological make-up in often minute and exquisite detail. Think of a late 20th century Dickens and Hardy and you will completely get the picture. I would go so far to say that if you do not enjoy the writing in this book you are not a true connoisseur of literature.
Mr Carey exhibits dexterity in the way in which the narrative switches from one side of the world to the other in quick succession. In addition he will insert a small piece from the future, which he will then pick up a couple or more chapters later.
As for the narrative this too is superb; it is set in the 1860s and tells of two odd-bods, Oscar and Lucinda, social misfits who find ordinary life and fitting into the social norm difficult and extremely trying, if not indeed, agonising to attempt. They start off living on opposite sides of the world, but their lives come together in the middle of the ocean en route from Southampton to Sydney. Both are tortured souls who after an extremely hesitant, prolonged, uncomfortable and shy meeting of their hearts are then quickly divided by the need for Oscar to seek to satisfy a wager, a wager that they have created together and that they both come quickly to regret. Ultimately it results in dramatic and tragic consequences, which I will not reveal so as not to spoil the ending.
The thread running through this book is that of gambling and the highs and lows that ensue when a person gets hooked, as some of the players in this drama do. The overall message is that it is evil and the conclusion of anyone's addiction will be personal and or financial ruin. There is therefore a clear message to be listened to and so in many senses this book is a fable.
This book falls into my must read category and I now look forward to delving further into Mr Carey's work.
on 30 April 2008
It is difficult to describe the scope and artistry of this thoroughly beautiful book. From the outset the two characters are characterized with the utmost sympathy and, yes, humour. But it is a sad, sad tale, and ultimately a lush portrayal of love and the difficulty people find in connecting with others. And it is told in such a fresh, unique way! Although in some sense deeply rooted in its period it is still a timeless portrayal of society and the pressures it places on each of us to conform.
I love the great understatement near the beginning of the book, something like, "Lucinda's parents had raised a square peg in a country that was made up entirely of round holes."
I always love books where two characters from completely different worlds collide. Let's face it, this book was never going to have a happy ending, although it would have been great if it had. I'm glad that the film version was changed; both it and the book are immensly entertaining in their own ways (Cate Blanchett is superlatively ethereal as Lucinda in the film).
The trials and troubles of both characters are lovely, and I thoroughly loved the '19th century set pieces,' that the book opens with. An eccentric view of the lives of two people. Both are forced to sink or swim... One swims, the other sadly sinks, but only after they both play their parts in one of the greatest romances in literature.
Rewarding, thoroughly deserving (for once) of the Booker Prize, I think this is one of the best books ever written.
on 7 March 2005
I can understand why people may give up on this book but alas! Do continue, for the time you devote will pay off spectacularly.
It took me a few attempts to finish reading this novel; Carey's intensly descriptive attention to detail takes some getting used to. However, by the time I had really 'got into it' my personal dedication to the characters had become great and I became engrossed by the two protagonists: Oscar and Lucinda.
The short and neatly contained chapters act almost as stories in themselves and within these small bursts of narrative subtly emerges an outline of the harsh reality of a nation in its infancy. Like the English in an unsympathetic Australian climate we see two peculiars, a square peg and an odd bod, raging and scurrying through the expectations of society.
Nothing prepered me for the impact this book had on me and its electrifying ending shook me to the core. The story and its protagonists are absurd and obscure, intense and strangely romantic but moreover; utterly delightful.
on 19 July 2007
I am extremely suprised so many people found the main characters of Oscara and Lucinda unengaging as they are two of the most ambitious and endearing characters I have ever met. Oscar and Lucinda is a highly intelligent, secretly humorous and intricat novel which should be praised for its unique voice and mastery of language.
Oscar and Lucinda is a book which slowly builds up momentum with its many stories and short, splintered chapters. Peter Carey has surely established himself as one of the greatest modern writers in this monumental, post-colonial piece.
on 1 February 2015
The two "narrative strands" are not so much strands as jumps from one uninteresting scenario to another.The prettily polished details gain the novel a star, but a few pretty flowers don't make a magic forest. Every character is eccentric, but lack the magnificent eccentricity of Dickens' grotesques. Also there is no plot to keep us interested in the progress of the novel. Even the main characters have screws loose, which would be fine if they showed some evidence of developing into people you'd actually want to know. But no, the only ongoing revelations of character are descriptions of more irritating eccentricities. The greatest eccentric, Oscar's father, is a promising character, but is soon left behind for a series of forgettable weirdos. In fact, Carey stole this character from the great Victorian writer Edmund Gosse, whose real-life father was a marine biologist and member of the Plymouth Brethren. His biographical work "Father & Son" is much funnier and much deeper than this tedious romp.
P.S. I also found it a great wrong to find George Eliot dragged into the story and made to look small-minded. Try reading Middlemarch, which makes Carey's effort look small and trivial.
on 17 August 2009
I am not an avid reader unless I come across a book which truly touches me. Oscar and Lucinda is such a book. As the back cover proclaims, there is something of Dickens in this book, with its slightly larger than life characters, and a plot which runs freely from episode to episode. It is an atmospheric book which explores a relationship as it develops into love, unlikely though that seems.
on 5 October 2009
I had the misfortune to pick this up a couple of months ago on the basis that every now and again it would be good for the soul to read something 'worthy'. The plot meanders in haphazard fashion through a bizarre cast of very peculiar people. I found it pretty much impossible to have any empathy for any of the players and found the endless parading of their strangeness, extremely repetitive. From memory this was 650 pages long and, having fought my way through 600 odd pages, I finally gave up in disgust at the umpteenth introduction of a very peculiar character for no apparent reason other than to introduce another very peculiar character! Beautifully written and observed but a dire read.
A wonderful, slightly magical tale of two unusual characters; Oscar, the son of a Plymouth Brethren preacher and marine biologist in Devon (lifted from Edmund Gosse's 'Father and Son- another fantastic read incidentally), and independent-minded Australian heiress Lucinda.
Carey's ability to evoke emotion and describe his characters' feelings and impulses are superb. Thus Lucinda's moods that spring from a complex combination of hurt, anger and uncertainty are totally clear to the reader. And it takes some sort of writer to have his reader (well this reader!) fall in love with a character (Oscar) who is both unattractive and unsuccessful.
A heart rending tale overall, notably in the difficult relationship between Oscar and his father, who finds it so hard to express the love he feels; and of course in that with Lucinda... A true classic