středa 13. července 2011

Peter Carey: Oskar a Lucinda (Oscar and Lucinda)

   I found this book browsing in the second hand bookshop by the Charles University – it was one of those books no one wants which they sell for 20 CZK. It is really sad that someone can be one of the only two authors who have ever got two Bookers and still your books can be sold under the price of the used paper. I have already read one of Carey’s books – The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith – and I have to say that he is a great author (well, that’s why he got those two Bookers…along with Coetzee).
   The story is (obviously) about Oscar and Lucinda. In the beginning, Oscar is a young English boy whose father is a Baptist, he is very strict and severe and does not show much of affection to his son (he really loves him, he just doesn’t know how to express his feelings). Oscar is a deeply religious boy and listens to his father’s every word but things change when their servant – a young girl – prepares a pudding with raisins. The father finds out and forces Oscar to vomit it out but the boy doesn’t believe that God would care about pudding and when he thinks that God gave him a sign to leave his father, he does and he moves at an Anglican priest’s house.
   Lucinda’s parents both died and left her with a farm and land. Her mother writes into her last will that she wants the land to be divided and sold so that Lucinda has enough money when she comes of age and gets married easily. She is given 10 000 dollars (which was apparently a real fortune in that time) when she reaches the age of 18 but she feels betrayed as she was looking forward to keeping the farm. Anyway, she comes to Sydney and buys a glass factory.
   Oscar studies at Oxford to become a priest but he becomes a complete social outcast there. But most importantly, he never realizes he is a weirdo. Than, me meets Wardley-Fish, another student, who takes him to horse races. Here, Oscar discovers his passion for hazard and starts earn his living by betting on horses. Lucinda starts her life in Sydney but doesn’t do much better than Oscar. She befriends a priest who is interested in glass and helps her with factory. She also comes to visit Mr d’Abbs’ house where she plays carts with him and his circle of friends. Both characters meet later in the book and gradually (without knowing it) they fall in love. Oscar ends up living in Lucinda’s house so every one thinks they sleep with each other, but that’s not the case...neither of them believes the other one would like him (or her) so they never say a thing about their feelings. An important moment is when Lucinda tells Oscar she wants to build a glass church and he bets with her that he will transport it across Australia – important because they both bet everything.
   The best thing about this novel is the two main heroes. Lucinda is the kind of heroine you love in a book but who you would probably despise in real life (I know she would get on my nerves). She scarcely talks, she doesn’t bond with other people very well but in fact, she longs for human contact. She always does everything as she wants – she buys a glass factory when no one expects women to be in business, she wears weird cloths because they are comfortable and doesn’t bother with fashion, she tries to do stuff as if she were a man. To be precise, she gradually realizes that there are huge differences between what a man and a woman are supposed to do. She quite suffers for the way she is treated by workers in her factory because she would love to be friends with them but they never accept her. She also often makes men nervous because of the way she behaves. Oscar is a less likeable character. He’s feeble and pale, he has no social skills, his religious beliefs are a little bit over the top, even for his time, he’s ugly and…really, there aren’t many things to like about him. You usually feel sorry for him because he’s really pure and innocent but weak when it comes to hazard. And sometimes you just get POed by his religion but that might be just an opinion of a mostly-atheist-with-an-uncrtain-belief-in-something-not-yet-defined. He is also probably the only man who could be with Lucinda which more or less makes you like him.
   It really is not easy to define this book. It’s about rigid Australian society of the late 19th century. It is about two social outcasts who can’t resist a good game of cards. It also has kind of D.H. Lawrence modernist atmosphere, at least at the parts where personal values are considered superior to those of society. There is a strong love story but it shouldn’t bother anyone, even romance-haters. You know from the beginning that this story just can’t have a happy ending so you know there will be no sleazy, all sugary happy ending with a wedding and “and they lived happily ever after”.
   I didn’t enjoy Oscar and Lucinda as much as Tristan Smith, mainly because this is a realistic novel and Tristan is kind of a weird fantasy with its own mythology, political system and so on. It is also kind of lengthy at the beginning and in general I hate long descriptions of hero’s sucky childhood. I was also a little confused by the narrator. It is a young boy who speaks about Oscar as about his great-grandfather but he tells the story from the position of an omniscient narrator. He sees into Lucinda, too…actually into all characters in the book from his past (if I remember well, he doesn’t describe thoughts of his parents). So it is a little bit weird.
   But it is a really great novel (it didn’t get the Booker for nothing), a little bit slow in some parts but definitely worth reading.
   Oh, and there is a movie with Cate Blanchette and Ralph Fiennes based on this novel...I haven't seen it but with these's a total must.

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