Thursday, June 28, 2018

Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey

The time is the nineteenth century, the 1860's to be exact.  The place is Australia, now colonized but still a very new country in terms of its English inhabitants.  The story is told through the lives of two young people.  Oscar Hopkins grew up in a small, remote English village, the son of the local pastor who was also a marine biologist.  There was little love shown and Oscar escapes to Oxford as soon as he can.  Lucinda is a teenager who is suddenly orphaned and discovers that instead of living on a farm and its odors and work as she has always done, that her parents sold the land and she is now an heiress.

Neither are what is considered 'the right sort' in the social pecking order but both are determined to carve out a successful life for themselves.  Lucinda buys a glassworks factory on a whim and then goes to England to see what it holds and perhaps find a husband.  Oscar is assigned to a parish in Australia.  They meet on the boat as Oscar comes to discover his calling and Lucinda returns, disappointed in her quest for love.  Oscar has an intense phobia of water and is the butt of jokes about it but Lucinda sees beyond his weaknesses to a man she would like to know.  They also find that each is entranced by the same vice; gambling.

Once back in Australia, things don't go as planned.  Lucinda is having a hard time breaking into the top rungs of society even with her money.  Oscar isn't his parishioners idea of a pastor and when one of them spies in his window and discovers the two playing cards for money, Oscar is disgraced and stripped of his parish.  The two, shunned by society, form a partnership and soon both are in love, although both are determined to hide the fact from each other.  Their love leads them to a strange mission and a stranger bet; to move and construct a glass church in a settlement across uncharted lands.  If Oscar is successful Lucinda will give him all her fortune. 

This novel won the Booker Prize in 1988 and it is clear why.  Carey's ability to capture the country of his birth and the people who came to inhabit it and make it their own is amazing.  The writing is luminous but it doesn't stray so far that the plot is forgotten.  It moves along inexorably toward an ending few readers would expect.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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