When I started this book I knew I was in for something different. Two gamblers fall in love and conspire to transport a glass church across the outback in colonial times? And it's good? Yes, it is good.
Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda was a great trip for me. I loved being immersed in the details of the 1850s and 1860s. I especially loved being immersed in the details of the mind from this period. This is not a simple love story. The characters feel deeply about many things, and have many different feelings: guilt, pleasure, holiness, despair, longing, loneliness. The list could go on. It's a rich rich book.
While the basic story is what's written above, it is more honest to say that the transporting a glass church thing is just something that happens in the book. It was a way for Carey to really dig into deep questions of the soul--faith, doubt, righteousness, hypocrisy, wickedness, the fragility of relationships. While I read this book I really cared for the characters as they struggled to find their identity amidst so much external and internal conflict.
The book is also pretty funny. There are several great parts that made me laugh out loud. It's the way Carey describes things and his sense of timing. But that same talent helps him also achieve a devestating effect in the reader. The comical story is real, but so is the tragedy and the despair. The relationships are so important to the characters, who have struggled so hard to connect with anyone, yet the relationships, while honest, are also desperate. It's hard to read at times for fear of what discoveries will be made.
The books started slowly, though not unpleasantly. We see Oscar and Lucinda growing up, experiencing their rather harsh childhoods. Oscar is a bit strange to others. Lucinda too, only its because she's a rather strong willed woman. Both recognize their situation, and even though they recognize that they should not worry because they feel they are being exactly who they should be, it still hurts. On a side note, almost, they each become addicted to gambling. Ultimately they gamble everything they care for on each other. This all somehow leads to a very insightful look at faith, colonialism, love, death.
Somehow in this book Carey has taken a million minute, seemingly unimportant details, and compiled them into something touching and important. I like the way one of the Best of the Booker judges described it as building the Taj Mahal out of matchsticks (or something along those lines).
4 stars out of 5.