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Oscar and Lucinda

by
February–March 1998, no. 198

Oscar and Lucinda

by
February–March 1998, no. 198

Oscar and Lucinda is the next best thing we have to that gleaming oxymoron a contemporary Australian literary classic. It won a swag of prizes (not least the Booker); it is a long vibrant narrative, including history full of the rustle of Victorian costumes, but with a whisper of the horrors on which this country was founded with a brief ghastly moment representing the murder of Aborigines.

Peter Carey’s 1988 novel is also the book a lot of people would turn to if they wanted to show how Australian writing could take it up to the Marquezes and Rushdies, the fabulist tradition where you get realism and fancy with the lot. Oscar and Lucinda has, after all, its glass church on water, its central conceits of gambling, its Plymouth Brethren and megalomaniac clerks and parish hypocrites and Chinese gaming dens, its random happenstance and its dea ex machina.