Bursting with informed gusto, freewheeling comedy, pauses of pathos and moments of surreal poetry – swaggering streetboys ‘with their hands boasting against their braces,’ scared cockatoos flying up "like screeching feathers from a burst pillow"– Oscar & Lucinda is a creative explosion of delight at life’s wayward, diverse plentifulness.
Peter Kemp - Sunday Times (London)
Carey is one of the great story-tellers of our time, the kind who make you take the telephone off the hook, forget the television and ignore the doorbell.... He has the rare gift of making the written world more vivid than life. A magnificent book.
Evening Standard (UK)
Luminous and magical, Oscar and Lucinda dances with a shimmer of light and dark as its two noble gamblers play out dreams of God and glass. A spectacular achievement.
The Age (Australia)
It is Thomas Wolfe one is reminded of most when reading Peter Carey...they share that magnificent vitality, that ebullient delight in character, detail and language that turns a novel into an important book.
New York Times Book Review
A kind of rollercoaster ride...The reader emerges...gasping, blinking, reshaped in a hundred ways, conscious that the world is never going to look the same again.
We have a great novelist living on the planet with us, and his name is Peter Carey.
Los Angeles Times
As fine a love story and as fascinating an exploration as any reader could wish...Carey writes as if the world he has created, and his own private life, are at stake.
The stuff of shimmering, transparent fantasy, held together by the struts of 19th-century history and the millions of painstaking details.
If Illywhacker astounded us with its imaginative richness, this latest Carey novel does so again, with a masterly sureness of touched added. It's a story, in a sense the story, of mid-19th century England and Australia, narrated by a man of our time and therefore permeated with modern consciousness. Oscar is a shy, gawky, Oxford-educated Church of England minister with a tortured conscience; Lucinda is a willful, eccentric Australian who sinks her family inheritance into a glass factory; and the basis for the star-crossed love that develops between them is a shared passion for gambling. They meet on the boat to Sydney, Oscar becomes Lucinda's lodger after being defrocked for his "vice" and, finally, leaving a trail of scandal behind them, they construct a glass church in the Outback, their wildest gamble yet. The narrative techniques though which Carey dramatizes the effects of English religious beliefs and social mores upon frontier Australia smack of both Dickens and of Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman; but he doesn't lean upon his sources, he uses them, for his own subtle and controlled purposes. His prose (full of such flashes as "A cormorant broke from the surface, like an improbable idea tearing the membrane between dream and life") is an almost constant source of surprise, and he is clearly in the forefront of that literary brilliance now flowing out of Australia..
As he demonstrated in Bliss (1981) and Illywhacker (1985), Carey is partial to eccentrics. Here, he provides a splendid array of cranks and monomaniacs — with two of them, the title characters, living out an odd and tender love story. Yet theirs is only the central plot in an astonishingly complex literary performance that moves between England and Australia in the 1860's. There are dozens of characters and at least five important storylines, two set in the Old World and three in the New. Mostly, though, this is a leisurely and witty fable about the two great enthusiasms of the 19th century — religion and science. Many great schemes were hatched to try to harmonize the two, and so it is here. Lucinda, an Australian heiress, consults Joseph Paxton, architect of London's Crystal Palace, and then she and Oscar, a clergyman, set out to erect a glass church — in darkest New South Wales. The whole book is also a literary parody. Here, the results are uneven, largely because Carey has made some errant choices. His first targets are Fielding and Sterne. But these were 18th-century writers who expressed the energy of a particular moment: the last gasp of Merrie Olde England, about to be submerged by piety, industrialism, and red plush draperies with ball fringe. Carey is off the mark here. He fares better when he begins to parody Trollope. His style then becomes more appropriate to the material; also less facetious and digressive. Oscar and Lucinda (582 pp.) is sometimes too slow, and its energetic whimsicality can be grating. Against that, though, set writing that is far more often lucid and fine, beautifully drawn characters, and a remarkably clever narrative scheme. A brave and original novel.
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