Take A Bet On This,
This review is from: Oscar and Lucinda (Paperback)
Oscar and Lucinda starts of rather modestly, telling the story of the narrator's mother and her reverence for a church built by her grandfather, the Reverend Oscar Hopkins. The novel quickly broadens out, charting Oscar's journey from Cornwall to Australia, as a priest, and the eponymous Lucinda, a young Australian woman with a fortune and in possession of a glass factory in Sydney. Both are extremely odd, and are also outcasts for breaking the conventions of contemporary society. Both of them come together through their addiction to gambling, and between them bet on the possibility of transporting a glass church to a remote settlement in the Australian outback.
The story is told by Oscar's great grandchild, and is constructed from relatively short chapters (there are 111 chapters over 515 pages). These tend to be from the point of view (though not told in the voice of) the different characters. This is a technique that works well and adds to the epic nature of the tale. Characters drift in and out of view over the course of the novel, and details about the characters and their backstories are constantly embellished and updated. As well as charting the family histories of both Oscar and Lucinda, we are also introduced to many other distinctive and enjoyable characters including Oscar's Plymouth Brethren father, Mr D'Abbs the and his head clerk Mr Jeffries and glassworks chief blower Arthur Phelps. My personal favourite is Miriam, who is constantly cheated of the opportunity to escape her widow's weeds. Carey vividly brings to life not only 19th century Sydney, but also the isolated circumstances in Cornwall in which Oscar's story begins.
This is a novel that is largely character driven, but there is plenty of drama to be found, especially at the end, where Carey succeeds in brutally pulling the rug from under the reader's feet twice within the final ten pages. The characters generate much wry humour will their almost total lack of self-awareness, and many of them would slot right into a Dickens' novel. The switching of the focus for the chapters creates a community of characters, who narrative threads intertwine and are most successfully brought together. I must confess that I struggled slightly to follow the sections about religious doctrine, but this is probably more to do with my own ignorance. Overall, this is a most enjoyable book.