Oscar and Lucinda is the best book by my favourite living author. I am a failed writer, and it is thanks to authors as talented as Peter Carey (and there are only a handful) that I chose to give up: I couldn't possibly hope to capture human life on the page, with all its infinite possibilities, as beautifully, gracefully, amusingly and touchingly as Peter Carey. As Angela Carter writes on the dust jacket of my copy, "It fills me with a wild, savage envy, and no novelist could say fairer than that". I am currently half way through my second reading of Oscar and Lucinda, and I know what is in store for me. I am prepared to sob like a child, and I am relishing it.
Set in England and Australia in the nineteenth century, the novel is essentially about the precariousness of existence and how people's lives are constructed by chance. Its essence is perhaps best captured in Oscar's speech to Lucinda on the ship Leviathan: "Our whole faith is a wager...We bet that there is a God. We bet our life on it...We must stake everything on the unprovable fact of His existence". And so they sit down to a game of cards.
Objectivity is perhaps an unattainable goal. When I recommend Oscar and Lucinda to my friends, they generally enjoy it. But this is not enough for me. I want them to feel it as keenly as I do - that Carey is an astonishing writer, possessed of an imagination, intelligence, wit and compassion, and the ability to imbue his writing with these qualities, unrivalled by any living author. And that Oscar and Lucinda is a strange, evocative, beautiful, tender novel which will make them laugh and make them cry and make them wish it would never end. I hope this is recommendation enough.