My second library book is Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey.
I know this post is called “one minute book reviews” but I’m afraid I may go over time a bit, due to SEVERE RANTING.
This book was so frustrating! It moves at a snail’s pace. I should have guessed I’d have trouble, as it is the 1988 Booker Prize winner. The Booker and I go way back, and we have quite the love-hate relationship. I often find the Bookers to be books with extremely beautiful poetry-prose, but books that are boring as poo. I’m afraid Oscar and Lucinda is not that different.
I mean, the book is called Oscar and Lucinda, and yet we don’t meet Lucinda until 80 pages into a 500 page book. And what is Oscar doing for those first 80 pages? He spends almost all of it agonizing over whether or not to leave his church for a new faith. AGONIZING, trust me, is the correct word.
Then we meet Lucinda, and her story advances at a similar pace. The two main characters don’t even meet each other until page 230. That’s almost halfway through the book!
I almost gave up on the book at the halfway mark, but then I remembered it had been made into a movie, so I went to see how they had cast it. While at the IMDB I read the summary for the movie and found out that the central part of the film is a bet made between Oscar and Lucinda about moving a glass church out into the outback. Like, wow, something was actually going to happen in this book? When, exactly? Maybe in the last 10 pages or so?
Here’s what happens for the first 250 pages.
It’s the mid-1800s. Oscar decides to leave his father’s faith to become an Anglican minister. He can’t afford school, so he turns to betting on horse races to make ends meet. Lucinda is raised in the Australian outback by her mother to be a woman of Modern Ideas. Her mother dies and she gets a huge inheritance at age 18, which she uses to buy a glass factory in Sydney. While in Sydney, she learns to play cards for money with her friends and likes it.
Then, they meet. Then, they spend 25 AGONIZING pages AGONIZING over whether or not they should actually talk to each other. SHEESH.
And now, you can skip the first half of the book.
The really frustrating thing is that the prose is really lovely, and the story is told in a whimsical fashion that I would have really loved if I were reading this book in high school or university. Take this passage, for example, about Lucinda’s decision to buy the glass factory:
It is better to think about the purchase as a piano manoeuvred up a staircase by ten different circumstances adn you cannot say it was one or the other that finally got it there – even the weakest may have been indispensable at that tricky turn on the landing.
Or this quote, about Oscar trying to hide his fear of the ocean on a boat:
Although he did not promise he would accompany them up on to the deck, neither did he indicate that he could not, and whilst a court of law would declare he had not misled the party as to his intention, the courts of heaven would not be so easily deceived.
See? Awesome writing. Peter Carey really knows his way around a metaphor.
But JESUS, get to the point already, would you dude?
And while you’re at it, could you add on a more depressing and angering ending? Oh, you couldn’t, because you already found the MOST DEPRESSING AND ANGERING ending EVER? I see.
I think this book is Great Literature, but not really what I need in my life right now. I need books that are fun and fast moving, with more straightforward prose that I can pick up and put down 20 times a day. I can only read in short bursts between other activities, and I need to be able to follow what the heck is going on — and at the same time, if I can only read 10 pages, it would be nice if SOMETHING HAPPENED.
So, second library book recommendation: unfortunately, pass on it. Rating: C.
Incidently, the movie version stars Ralph Fiennes and a young unknown called Cate Blanchett, and apparently is charming, if a little confusing at times. If you’re interested in the story, I think I would have to go with the recommending the movie version instead.