Peter Carey has won the Booker Prize twice (and is short-listed for this year’s prize too) and is a master of writing descriptions. As I read his novel Oscar and Lucinda I often paused to exclaim over his clever wording and piercing way of creating an image.
The book tells several converging stories, with the main characters being Oscar, an odd Plymouth Brethren boy turned Anglican priest whose obsessive gambling addiction forces him to seek penance in Australia, and Lucinda, a spirited girl born in Australia whose independence and inheritance are jeopardized from her own compulsive gambling. The gambling is what brings the two together in a poignant love story, and what also ultimately ruins them. My enjoyment of the book was somewhat tarnished by one or two disturbing scenes and an ending that was not satisfying. I don’t always need a happy ending, but I like to feel a sense of resolution that I felt was missing in this book. I don’t think the ending was poorly written, rather it just wasn’t the way I wanted the book to end.
The film version of Oscar and Lucinda was amazingly well done. It helped that the main characters were played by two excellent actors, Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett, but the screenplay also managed to capture the essential elements of the story and the atmosphere of the book while cutting what I thought were the disturbing scenes from the book and some peripheral story lines. Best of all, the movie changed the ending of the book to preserve the main plot twist while still ending in a FAR more satisfactory fashion than the book did. You may never hear me say this again, but I actually think the movie was better than the book for those reasons!
I don’t think you should skip the book if you enjoy great literary writing and savor clever wording – Peter Carey really is an excellent author. But if you find yourself dissatisfied with the ending, check out the movie too!
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