Oscar and Lucinda

Oscar and Lucinda

by Peter Carey

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The Booker Prize-winning novel--now a major motion picture from Fox Searchlight  Pictures.

This sweeping, irrepressibly inventive novel, is a romance, but a romance of the sort that could only take place in  nineteenth-century Australia. For only on that sprawling continent--a haven for misfits of both the animal and human kingdoms--could a nervous Anglican minister who gambles on the instructions of the Divine become allied with a teenaged heiress who buys a glassworks to help liberate her sex. And only the prodigious imagination of Peter Carey could implicate Oscar and Lucinda in a narrative of love and commerce, religion and colonialism, that culminates in a half-mad expedition to transport a glass church across the Outback.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307787132
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/23/2011
Series: Vintage International
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 13,660
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Peter Carey was born in 1943 in Bacchus Marsh, Australia, and was educated at Geelong Grammar School. He is the author of a collection of stories and five novels. He lives in New York City and teaches at New York University.

Date of Birth:

May 7, 1943

Place of Birth:

Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia


Monash University (no degree)

Read an Excerpt

The Church
If there was a bishop, my mother would have him to tea. She would sit him, not where you would imagine, not at the head of the big oval table, but in the middle of the long side, where, with his back to the view of the Bellinger River, he might gaze at the wall which held the sacred glass daguerreotype of my great-grandfather, the Reverend Oscar Hopkins (1841-66).
These bishops were, for the most part, bishops of Grafton. Once there was a bishop of Wollongong, travelling through. There was also a canon, and various other visiting or relieving reverends. Sometimes they were short-sighted or inattentive and had to have the daguerreotype handed to them across the table. My mother crooked her finger as she picked up her teacup. She would not tell the bishops that my great-grandfather's dog-collar was an act of rebellion. They would look at a Victorian clergyman. They would see the ramrod back, the tight lips, the pinched nose, the long stretched neck and never once, you can bet, guess that this was caused by Oscar Hopkins holding his breath, trying to stay still for two minutes when normally—what a fidgeter—he could not manage a tenth of a second without scratching his ankle or crossing his leg.
This was obvious to me, but I said nothing. I sat, tense, my hands locked underneath my thighs. In a moment the Bishop would ignore our big noses and many other pieces of contradictory evidence, and remark on our resemblance to this pioneer clergyman. We lined up: my mother, my brother, me, my sister. We had red hair, long thin necks like twisted rubber bands.
My mother was pleased to imagine she looked like the photograph. I would rather have looked like my father. He was not like us at all. He was short, broad-faced, pigeon-chested. He had crinkled eyes and crooked teeth. He laughed and farted. He was a cunning spin bowler. He could roll a cigarette with one hand. He was not like us, and when my mother told the visiting Bishop the story of how Oscar transported the little church of St John's to Bellingen, my father would peel a match with his broad fingernail and look out through the windows to where the great physical monument to his marriage, the Prince Rupert's Glassworks-the roof painted bright red then, in the 1930s-sal high above the Bellinger River.
My mother told the story of the church in a way that always embarrassed me. There was an excess of emotion in her style. There was something false. We 'must have all known it, but we never spoke about it. I could not have named it anyway. She was the same in church: her responses to the Sanclus (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts) were loud and showy in their reverence. My father made jokes about many things, but never about this.
My father was jealous of that church, although if you could see it now, it is hard to imagine why. It sits on a patch of flood-prone land beside Sweet Water Creek at Gleniffer—a tiny weatherboard building with a corrugated iron roof. For fifty years it was painted various shades of brown, and then, in 1970, it was painted a harsh lime green. Now it has gone chalky and sits in that generous valley like something on which lichen has grown. It tucks in underneath the long line of casuarinas that mark the course of the river. High above, behind this line of river, the mountains rise sharply to three thousand feet-the back wall of the valley, so steep there are no tracks, although they say there is an old tin mine up there where they planned to hide the women and children from the Japanese during the Second World War. I was away at the lime, but it seems unlikely to me. !learned long ago to distrust local history. Darkwood, for instance, they will tell you at the Historical Society, is called Darkwood because of the darkness of the foliage, but it was not so long ago you could hear people call it Darkies' Point, and not so long before that when Horace Clarke's grandfather went up there with his mates-all the old families should record this when they are arguing about who controls this shire-and pushed an entire tribe of aboriginal men and women and children off the edge.
These are the same people who now want St John's removed on a low-loader. They want it taken to Bellingen to be used as a Sunday school.
My father, for one, would have been appreciative. He was, as I said, jealous of it. He did not like my mother's proprietorial attitude to it. Perhaps if the church had been in the town of Bellingen itself it would have been different. But Gleniffer is ten miles away. She would not hear of attending service in Bellingen. They must motor out to Gleniffer. During the war they used their petrol ration just going to church. We were all baptized there, confirmed there. I was married there. When my father died he was carried ten miles to Gleniffer for the funeral service, and then ten miles back into town to be buried.
My father did not get drunk, but once, after drinking two beers, he told me that my mother walked around the perimeter of St John's like a dog pissing around a fence. But only once did he ever show my mother the intensity of his feelings.
The Advent Wreath
There was no torch available for my father because I had dropped it down the dunny the night before. I had seen it sink, its beam still shining through the murky fascinating sea of urine and faeces. My father did not, as he had on an earlier occasion, come out and retrieve it. So when the lights went off in the storm the following night, he had no torch to examine the fuse-box. Lightning was striking all around us. The phone was giving small pathetic rings in response to strikes further along the line. We thought our fuses were blown by a backsurge in the power system. My father took a candle out on the veranda. The candle blew out. When he came back into the house he did not have the fuse with him.
We were sitting in silence at the kitchen table.
My father said: "Where is the fuse-wire?"
I was ten years old. I sat next to my mother. My sister was sixteen; she sat next to me. My brother was fourteen; he sat next to my sister.
“I used it," my mother said. People described her as a tall woman. She was not. She was five foot six, but she had an iron will and a suspicious nature and this, combined with her power as an employer in the glassworks, was a tall combination.
I could smell the smoking candle. Although my father held this candle, I knew he could not smell it. He had no sense of smell at all.
"How did you use it?'' I could not see my father. I waited for the next flash of lightning. "How?" He had a hoarse voice. This was somehow connected with the loss of his sense of smell. He syringed his nasal passages with salt water every morning. Often he would ask: "Does it smell?" "It" was his nose.
"I used it,” my mother said, "to make the Advent wreath."
There was no note of apology in her voice. Lightning sheeted the kitchen. She had her head tilted in the air in that disdainful pose which, in the family mythology, was said to resemble a camel.
I felt very tense. I was the one who had helped my mother make this Advent wreath. There had been no holly or ivy, but I had found camphor laurel leaves, which are shiny and green. I knew she had not only used the fuse-wire but had taken the wire netting from my brother's rabbit hutches. The rabbits were, at this moment in shoe boxes in the linen press. She did not think that they would piddle. It did not occur to her.
My father lit the candle. He did not approach the table. He did not go back towards the door. He stood in the middle of the room.
''Where is it?" he asked.
"At church," my mother said. ''Please, David, sit down."
''Which church?"
''What does it matter?"
"It matters to me."
I cannot explain how frightening this was. My father did not speak like this. He liked life to be quiet. Even when he was dying, he tried to do it in a way that would not upset my mother.
“St John's,” she said.
Of course it was St John's. What else would it have been? But for some reason this announcement seemed to outrage him. He clasped his head. He put the candle on top of the Kelvinator where it promptly went out again.
"Oh, Christ," he said. "Jesus, Joseph and fucking Mary."
In the lightning I saw my sister's mouth drop open.
My mother stood up. She never made gentle or gradual movements. She stood so quickly her chair fell backwards. It crashed to the floor. The phone rang-two short bleats, then stopped.
"Kneel," my mother said. She meant for God to forgive my father his blasphemy. We understood her meaning, but we were outside our normal territory. Only "divorce" could have frightened me more, only "sex" been more embarrassing.
"Kneel," she shrieked.
Later we knew she was a bully. But when we were children, we felt too many confusing things. Mostly we wanted her to love us. So we came and knelt beside her, even my brother although he liked to stay up late and talk cricket with my father.
Then my father knelt too.
We stayed there kneeling on the hard lino floor. My brother was crying softly.
Then the lights came on.
I looked up and saw the hard bright triumph in my mother's eyes. She would die believing God had fixed the fuse.

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Oscar and Lucinda 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An exquisite novel of beauty, delicacy, and strength. It's an underated masterpiece, wonderfully written and full of understanding of its characters and their yearnings which ring true: desires for acceptance, for understanding, for absolution, for freedom, and most of all, for real love. One of my favorite books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every once in a while you read something that you know will, however subtly, forever change your perception. For me, this was one of those books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was well-written, rich, smart, and daring. Despite some of its more tragic parts, Carey portrays his characters and their lives honestly and elegantly. It is in some ways an epic, and yet I was completely absorbed from start to finish. It deserved the Booker.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Carey did a great job at the beginning of Oscar and Lucinda but I feel he may have taken a hiatus and waited to write the ending. The ending was rushed and did not serve justice to the time he spent developing the characters. The story as a whole I would give three stars-but for his prose and descriptions-I'll be generous today with four stars.
EricaKline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oscar Hopkins is a high-strung preacher's kid with hydrophobia and noisy knees. Lucinda Leplastrier is a frizzy-haired heiress who impulsively buys a glass factory with the inheritance forced on her by a well-intentioned adviser. In the early parts of this lushly written book, author Peter Carey renders the seminal turning points in his protagonists' childhoods as exquisite 19th-century set pieces. Young Oscar, denied the heavenly fruit of a Christmas pudding by his cruelly stern father, forever renounces his father's religion in favor of the Anglican Church. "Dear God," Oscar prays, "if it be Thy will that Thy people eat pudding, smite him!" Lucinda's childhood trauma involves a beautiful doll bought by her struggling mother with savings from the jam jar; in a misguided attempt to tame the doll's unruly curls, young Lucinda mutilates her treasure beyond repair. Neither of these coming-of-age stories quite explains how the grownup Oscar and Lucinda each develop a guilty passion for gambling. Oscar plays the horses while at school, and Lucinda, now an orphaned heiress, finds comfort in a game of cards with an odd collection of acquaintances. When the two finally meet, on board a ship bound for New South Wales, they are bound by their affinity for risk, their loneliness, and their awkwardly blossoming (but unexpressed) mutual affection. Their final high-stakes folly--transporting a crystal palace of a church across (literally) godforsaken terrain--strains plausibility, and events turn ghastly as Oscar plays out his bid for Lucinda's heart. Yet even the unconvincing plot turns are made up for by Carey's rich prose and the tale's unpredictable outcome. Although love proves to be the ultimate gamble for Oscar and Lucinda, the story never strays too far from the terrible possibility that even the most thunderstruck lovers can remain isolated in parallel lives.
tori_alexander on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oscar is the son of Evangelical naturalist Theophilus. Lucinda is the daughter of Elizabeth, a women's rights activist. An unlikely couple, Oscar and Lucinda fall in love but never marry. Instead they build a church of glass and move it into the wilds of New South Wales. They do so as a tribute to each other, but this tribute only takes the place of a love that could have been. Carey is without doubt a Dickensian author. His novel is a long and complicated genealogy of character studies. Not only are the main protagonists lavishly detailed but also their progenitors, friends, and servants, and in some cases their friends' and servants' ancestors. Carey obviously thinks important the effects of one's social context on desires and decisions. These long stories within stories function to explain Oscar and Lucinda's actions, which are complicated and fraught with conflicting personal values and beliefs. His characters are not quite Dickensian caricatures. They are more real and complicated, like, I would venture, Theophilus' loving and respectful studies of sea creatures (his specialty). One of the most touching passages in the book occurs when Wardley-Fish, a young friend of Oscar's, stumbles upon Theophilus Hopkins' writings in a book shop, reads his words and appreciates all their tenderness, all the love and emotion the writer felt for God's creation and through these writings he begins to understand his own friend, Oscar, so much better. Wardley-Fish "...claimed to have no ear for poetry or music and yet he was moved - it nearly winded him - by the elder Hopkins' prose. Where he had expected hellfire and mustard poultice, he found maidenhair and a ribbon of spawn.... To be able to feel these things, to celebrate God's work in such a lovely hymn, Wardley-Fish would have given everything and anything...." When Wardley-Fish tries to convey his feelings about the writing to his superficial fiancé, the words read aloud to her do not convey their meaning on their own. The listener does not have the sensitivity needed to appreciate such sensitivity. Theophilus' portrait is one of the most insightful and touching portraits of fatherhood I have ever encountered. It is one (of the many) tragedies told in this story that his son Oscar leaves him over a disagreement about theology. Theophilus loves his son deeply but does not express it as he should. He thinks it is too prideful to feel he loves his own son more than God does. Here in this passage we see the cruel and twisted religious heart decide not to hold his son, making one of a number of bad decisions that prevent full and happy human relationships. "Sometimes he wished only to lie on the bed and embrace his son, to put his nose into his clean, washed hair, to make a human cage around him, to protect his bird-frail body from harm; and what pride, he thought, what arrogance that would be." Social propriety and religious superstitions cause all the characters in this novel to stumble and to miss happiness. It dictates actions and cripples good will, reason, and common moral sense. The large metaphor ruling the narrative is Pascal's wager. To believe in God is to gamble. And, unlike Pascal, Carey says to gamble this way with one's life is obscene and stupid. A sad, well written book.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an odd book. I don¿t mean that the writing is odd - it¿s actually very good. The characters are odd, but they are also unique. I don¿t think I have encountered any like them before. The plot is also odd - very odd. I don¿t want to give anything away, but things do not work out quite the way I expected. Which is probably a good thing.It¿s a historical novel, set in Australia and England in the 1860s. There is a minimal framework where it seems that a modern great-grandchild is actually telling the story. The framework is really only needed for the final twist at the end - and no I won¿t reveal what that odd plot twist is - you¿ll have to read those 400+ pages to see what it is.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all time favourites.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oscar Hopkins grew up in southern England in the mid-1800s, under his father¿s iron rule. As a teenager he left his father¿s house to become an Anglican minister. He was an introverted and backward young man, called ¿Odd Bod¿ by his seminary colleagues. Surprisingly, he befriended Ian Wardley-Fish, a bit of a rake who introduced Oscar to betting on horse races. At the same time, Lucinda Leplastrier grew up in Australia, and came into a sizeable inheritance as she approached adulthood. She bought a glass factory and made her way as an independent business woman. She also became involved with a social group that spent considerable time gambling on cards. Returning from a visit to England, Lucinda met Oscar, who was travelling on the same ship, having decided to take the gospel to New South Wales. Eventually these two empty, dysfunctional people discovered their shared addiction to gambling, and a relationship of sorts blossomed. Their addiction took a bizarre turn when Lucinda bet her fortune on Oscar¿s ability to transport a church, made completely of glass, to a remote location in the colony. The novel concludes with this adventure and its consequences.Peter Carey¿s Booker prize-winning novel works both as a love story and an adventure set in an untamed part of the world. The characters of Lucinda and Oscar are well-developed, and the ¿supporting cast¿ is equally colorful. The plot gets a bit fantastic at times, and I never quite understood the source of attraction between Oscar and Lucinda. Nevertheless, from the very beginning I was caught up in their lives, eager to learn when and how their paths crossed, and even more curious about the story¿s conclusion. I found Carey¿s other Booker winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, more enjoyable and better written, but would still recommend Oscar and Lucinda as a very worthwhile read.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
no spoilers; just synopsisa) don't see the movie unless you read the book...something gets really lost between the twob)Excellent, simply excellent!!! I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates superlative writing and a quirky story. If every book were like this one, I would be in Heaven!!!! The prose is outstanding and these characters are simply so real I thought they'd float off the page. Oscar and Lucinda is set both in England and in Australia in the 19th century. In England, Oscar Hopkins is the son of a non-Anglican, religious fundamentalist who is also a naturalist, and up until he is about 15 Oscar grows up with the reassurance that he is among the saved. Oscar's mother died; he lives with his father in a little village called Hennacombe in Devon, in an austere house with no ornamentation; even the food is plain. One Christmas one of the cooks feels sorry for the boy and makes him a Christmas pudding, complete with raisins & a cherry; the ostentatiousness of the pudding leads Theophilus (Oscar's father) to lose it and he hits Oscar, who is then forced to cough up the pudding. Later, they are out wading in the ocean, and Oscar asks that God smite his father out of anger; just then, Theophilus has an accident that cuts him on the leg. Oscar realizes that he has to leave -- and the signs point to the Anglican Church. We next find him at Oxford, at Oriel College, where he discovers gambling. One thing leads to another and Oscar sets out to become a missionary in New South Wales but he has to go by ship...a problem since Oscar has this immense water phobia. It is on this voyage that Oscar meets Lucinda Leplastrier, returning to Australia, whose parents had died & whose mother, before dying, had their land subdivided and sold and Lucinda was now an heiress living off the profits. She is also the owner of a glassworks in Australia. Lucinda is obstinate, headstrong & like Oscar, she is a gambler. The lives of these two people come together on the ship, then meet again after Oscar discovers that there is no Missionary Work to be done in New South Wales, and that he is to be assigned to a posh vicarage instead. He meets Lucinda in a Chinese gambling house ... and things take off from there. I won't say another word... you really should read it for yourself.The writing is excellent; the story is excellent and there are so many themes that are explored without the author ever losing track. My only complaint: the end came so fast (it was a great ending but rushed) that after having savored the story for so long I felt cheated. However, the rest of the book was absolutely stunning and so rich so I can overlook this.Please try this book...I can totally see how it won a Booker.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading reviews on the Web and noting that Mr. Carey won the Brooker Award I rushed out and bought 5 books written by him. I am disappointed that his descriptive words are less than acceptable, by me, he seems to like to use 'earthy' instead of more usual common words and his plots are rather dull, in comparison to what else is out there.