The book: Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey
The edition: Portuguese translation by J. Teixeira de Aguilar, as published by Dom Quixote (softcover edition), 519 pages
The story: check this synopsis, I cannot do any better.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: this is the first book I really risked abandoning this year. And I risked abandoning it twice, for opposite reasons. At the beginning, I felt it could be a good book and I was not enjoying because of the language I was reading it in. As it went on, though, I felt that it was a useless book with useless characters. The only reason I kept reading was that, in my edition, the cover proposed this book as the story of two dreamers deciding to move a glass church through god-forsaken lands — I wanted to get to that part, and in the end it was the worst of the book. No dreams there!
Ever heard of Vonnegut’s second rule for writing fiction? “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.” That’s not the case. There was not one character that was lovable or even understandable. Not even one. Not even a minor character. I found them all wrong and intolerable.
The part with spoilers: all in all, it felt like the author had not planned the story, but went with it wherever he felt like going on any writing day. I didn’t like the way characters were brought in and then abandoned just after a few chapters. And I liked even less the story threads and themes left incomplete. For instance, the author brings Wardley-Fish all the way to Australia, and gives you the idea he is there to “save” Oscar in some way… but after a few pages he is robbed and goes back to Sydney, and we don’t hear about him anymore. Also their addiction to gambling seems to amount to the most important element of the story… and then it is abandoned and has no role whatsoever. And the end, we hear all about what happens to Miriam (a character we never heard of until the very last few chapters) after Oscar’s death, and we never really get to know what happens to Lucinda…
What I liked: two nice bits:
She understood, as women often do more than men, that the declared meaning of a spoken sentence is only its overcoat, the real meaning lies underneath its scarves and buttons.
But would you say it was ‘practical’ to sing hymns, to give glory to God, to pray, to fast? And what is the practical purpose of a church? For if it is only to provide shelter for Christians—and my dear papa would take this view—then it is better to have your congregation gather in cobblers’ rooms. But if your church, no matter how small, is also a celebration of God, then I would say I was the most practical man you have spoken to all year.
Language & translation: I wondered if it was the language that made this book such a success. I may have not enjoyed this in full. Yet I don’t think even the best language could save this book. I found the description of every little detail and gesture to be just boring. And I found many dialogs that were complete nonsense to me (although this is not the first time this happened this year).
Random question: can anyone explain the coincidence in this passage? I just don’t get it (nor does my mathematician of an husband).
The Leviathan was 690 feet long, 83 feet wide, and 58 feet deep. The Ark (if one allows the cubit as 20.62 inches) was 512 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet deep. This coincidence was not lost on Oscar who “discovered” the Leviathan two weeks after his fateful evening at Cremorne Gardens.
Read this if: I think people who like Victorian novels may enjoy the characterization.