cover image Oscar & Lucinda

Oscar & Lucinda

Peter Carey. HarperCollins Publishers, $18.95 (433pp) ISBN 978-0-06-015908-5

If Illywhacker astounded us with its imaginative richness, this latest Carey novel does so again, with a masterly sureness of touched added. It's a story, in a sense the story, of mid-19th century England and Australia, narrated by a man of our time and therefore permeated with modern consciousness. Oscar is a shy, gawky, Oxford-educated Church of England minister with a tortured conscience; Lucinda is a willful, eccentric Australian who sinks her family inheritance into a glass factory; and the basis for the star-crossed love that develops between them is a shared passion for gambling. They meet on the boat to Sydney, Oscar becomes Lucinda's lodger after being defrocked for his ``vice'' and, finally, leaving a trail of scandal behind them, they construct a glass church in the Outback, their wildest gamble yet. The narrative techniques though which Carey dramatizes the effects of English religious beliefs and social mores upon frontier Australia smack of both Dickens and of Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman; but he doesn't lean upon his sources, he uses them, for his own subtle and controlled purposes. His prose (full of such flashes as ``A cormorant broke from the surface, like an improbable idea tearing the membrane between dream and life'') is an almost constant source of surprise, and he is clearly in the forefront of that literary brilliance now flowing out of Australia. 30,000 first printing; $35,000 ad/promo. (May)