Reviewer: Arukiyomi (first published May 2012)
This was a wonderful book from start to finish. Carey writes with great insight into the vivid characters he has created and his use of metaphor is always insightful. While very beautifully evoking the themes of love and society, this is also a story of something I’m very familiar with: the struggle to overcome our fallen nature while trusting in a God who accepts that we cannot.
Set in the mid 19th-century, Oscar is born to a fundamentalist minister in rural Cornwall, England, Lucinda to immigrant parents in Australia. Both lose parents at a young age and both find themselves unacceptable to their surrounding societies. Although this hardship has quite a different effect on moulding the two of their characters, they both struggle with a passion which they carry as a dark secret: gambling.
For Oscar, this is at once the basis for faith and yet its crisis. He gambles, he believes, because God has instructed him to so that he can fulfil God’s plan. Lucinda gambles because she has the money to burn and because she finds it evokes preternatural tendencies she can barely resist. When the two eventually meet, it is gambling which cements their friendship and the greatest bet of all which is the consummation of their love.
This book is not short and yet Carey writes with an astonishing level of detail. The detail isn’t, as with Tolstoy or Hardy, in verbose descriptions of scenes or the human soul. The detail comes from metaphor. It’s everywhere and makes the novel worthy of a second, more patient, reading. Inanimate objects become alive: houses, buildings, modes of transport, whole countries – all of these are characters in the story. The humans themselves are also exceptionally well-crafted. Each of them is complex and you are never sure whether they are good guys or bad ones. And this is how it should be. Which one of us is, after all, wholly evil or wholly good? We are as varied a mixture of the two as you can imagine, and Peter Carey can imagine a whole lot more than most writers.
There are Booker Prize winners and Booker Prize winners. This one is up there with Midnight’s Children and The Siege of Krishnapur in my top three I think. Would it appear in yours?