Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Oscar and Lucinda is a strange book. Or, more precisely, it is a normal book about strange people. There is nothing experimental about the writing and there are no long philosophical passages. It definitely falls in the "good yarn" category of novels. But the main characters are odd birds – awkward misfits who end up doing unusual things because they can't do otherwise.
This Booker Prize winner by Peter Carey is a historical novel set, almost entirely, in the mid 1800s, mostly in Australia. Oscar is the son of an English marine biologist of such fervent Low Church beliefs that he beat his son for eating a Christmas pudding. Lucinda is an Australian orphan of independent mind and means, who invests half her fortune in a glass factory.
The two are drawn together by their mutual love of gambling. Oscar put himself through university by playing the ponies. Lucinda is dithering away the other half of her money on cards. The book is as much about gambling addiction as it is about anything else, although there is plenty in there about other 19th Century preoccupations, like religious sectarianism, natural sciences, sea travel, and geographic exploration.
None of the characters are particularly likable, or have much depth, despite the rich detail of the narrative. The ending is abrupt and half-baked. But the story is a grand, mesmerizing kaleidoscope of Australian history and human nature that never let's go of the reader's imagination.
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This counts as one of my Booker choices for the 2012 Battle of the Prizes, British Version. It also counts for the Mt. TBR Challenge, the Off The Shelf Challenge, the TBR Pile Challenge, and as one of my 450-550 books for the Chunkster Challenge.