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03 July 2008 @ 09:33 am
blow the bad guys away. faaaaaar awaaaaay.  
Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey

My version of this book has Peter Carey's name in copper letters and, underneath: TWICE WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE. At first I took this to mean Oscar and Lucinda won the Booker twice, which impressed me mightily (and might have influenced my decision to buy it). I was disabused of this notion very quickly on actually reading the book, so I read his byline and realised: okay, he's won it on two separate occasions.

I still don't know if he won it for Oscar and Lucinda. He SHOULDN'T have, in my opinion, but I have no way of knowing without googling it. I'm not going to google it. I shouldn't have to. Book covers aren't supposed to deceive me like this (unless Anne McCaffrey's written a review, in which case one takes it as read).

I didn't hate O&L as much as Love in the Time of Cholera, the bar against which all my hate forever more shall be measured. To be honest, that would be quite a difficult feat for any other book to achieve.


This book is COMING DOWN with metaphors. It's doubly painful because - me? Once I've read one of those 'writing rules' and it isn't too barmy, it sticks. And then I can't stop seeing where it's broken. In this case, it was a combination of George Orwell's 'don't use clichés. Ever, dudes' and a comment in the forum where I read Orwell's rules, which suggested writers should limit their metaphors to no more than three. PER BOOK. Carey would have difficulty keeping it to three per PAGE.

Speaking as a writer, I can see the attraction of metaphors. Oh boy, do I ever. When you write a metaphor you're really doing the most pointless thing on earth, but it LOOKS great and it FEELS great. Nothing says 'I'm a writer' more than comparing a rock to a butterfly bursting into flames while the sea rains frogs. Or whatever. Peter Carey's metaphors are not clichéd, but they're immensely ... there. They take over the plot. They ARE the plot. The characters' dialogue consists of monosyllables around which is constructed a cathedral of meaning and innuendo, ALL IN METAPHORS. No one could possibly think like this. I'm with Ron: that much emotion, you'd actually die.

Another thing I'm left unsure of is whether or not Oscar and Lucinda were real people. I got the impression that they were - Lucinda visits George Eliot, and you don't usually throw in honest-to-God associations with famous people unless they actually happened. Right? Idk, the whole book could be a metaphor for ... imaginary people or something, who knows.

So I'm a big fat fake, I hope you all realise this, but to me this - and a lot of 'Booker books' - write themselves in circles to fool readers into thinking they're some amazingly deep WHATEVER, when in fact it was probably more like Peter Carey spent his life writing random metaphors for, like, the fucking FUN of it, then strung them together in a five-second brain fart and turned it into a book. MY POINT is that if O&L were real people, would a note at the beginning saying as much have been too much for his Booker-laden soul to handle? I think if you even take inspiration from history it should be acknowledged so your readers aren't left floundering and with an urge to wikipedia the plot. Then again, most of his readers probably aren't big fat fakes when it comes to literature.

I pretty much hated Oscar and hoped he'd die in a fire (which pretty much happened, only with a different element, so yay!) - he was written as supremely physically unattractive but with no compensating features whatsoever. Lucinda - wtf. I think there were maybe five Lucindas in this book, or just one but with dissociative identity disorder. She represents whatever Carey was thinking at the time, I reckon. Also, her main characteristic - her sarcasm - wasn't, because we never see it. (THERE WERE PLENTY OF METAPHORS ABOUT IT, THOUGH!) Carey says at least twice that her life 'truly began' after she lost the glass factory, so I have to wonder why the HELL he didn't write that part of her life story instead of the deadly dull bits when she was rich and stupid and defied society basically by accident. She would have been easily ten thousand times more interesting if she'd done it on purpose.

O&L never do get together but we're subjected to 500 pages of them pining. All of which could easily have been resolved if Oscar (or Lucinda!) manned up and said, "In the words of Dostoevsky... I fancy you." I felt cheated because I realised afterwards that the POINT was that they never got together - they were star-crossed lovers, wtf - and Carey just strung it out for fucking ever to make sure their stars were crossed, and dotted and tangled and I don't know. I never for one second believed in their love because Lucinda needed a manly man, not a girly boy (my favourite kind) - one who'd actually shag her, for Christ's sake, given that they lived together for apparently years. Why shun society if you're not even going to get some play out of it? That's what I mean about Lucinda's lack of motive. She was an empty vessel for Carey to prod along, fill up and empty out at random.

The most interesting character was Miranda, so predictably she got all of five pages screentime. I still don't know why there was a shiny mark on her habit after she fucked Oscar. And she did, because even though he's a man he'd never, ever be on top. He had to come inside her, right, 'cause she got pregnant. If he shot his load early while she was stealing his manly virtue, it'd get on her front. IDEK. Carey is quite insanely bad at writing sex. That's just not on in someone who's supposed to represent a pinnacle of writerly achievement. Look at this:

Love was an insect, a beetle, a worm. It slipped into his belly like the long pink parasites which had thrived in the intestines of the Strattons' pigs ...


Okay if you don't want your readers turned on. Okay if you want them to lose their lunch. Not in the same scene, though! (I don't include people who get turned on by that kind of thing, in case you're wondering.) If you're not interested in the pornalicious side of it - or if you're REALLY, REALLY bad at it - here's a thought: DON'T WRITE IT.

Then he veers to the opposite, gag-worthy saccharine end of the spectrum with:

She could marry this man and still be captain of her soul.

whom she called 'my sweet archangel'.

No words. Sry.

Mr Jeffries annoyed me too. It took a while to click that he was Mrs Burrows' lover from 300 pages earlier - the writing is very boggy; I missed the key plot point about Lucinda's bet because it was a tiny moth in a mist of metaphors and OMG HE'S INFECTING MY MIND. And okay, while in real life it's reasonable that a dude who isn't turned on by cannibal Cossacks could also enjoy slaughtering natives and tormenting the weak, it would have made more narrative sense if he was. Mr Tomasetti was, and then he disappeared forever. It would have been simple to rewrite that scene with Mr Jeffries instead, and it would have rounded things off nicely. AND MADE SENSE. But obvs that's not 'literary' enough.

There's a couple other inconsistencies like that. Lucinda describes (with lots of metaphors, naturally) how unwelcome she feels at Mr D'Abbs’ table. Then on the ship, she misses the companionship she found there. This is what I mean by the seventy-five different Lucindas.

Finally, I was bothered by the use of the n-word. This was not contemporary literature: it was written in 1988. Neither was it necessary. He could have his characters be just as racist without being racist himself, if you know what I mean. And I did NOT like the tiny anti-Irish theme running through the book. The Irish weren't terribly welcome in the colonies - America and Australia - and they did tend to live up to their own bad reputation; but the foundations of both those civilisations included the blood and sweat of thousands of Irish people. So FUCK YOU, Peter Carey. NO COOKIE. That was kind of the last straw.

(ps I think, like Sirius said about rich people and servants, you can tell a lot about a writer from how they portray their villains.)

Oh! These totally aren't book reviews I'm doing here. Far too many obscenities for that. It's impossible for me to be objective about books.
Current Mood: angryangry
Current Music: my name is jonah (weezer)
on a yellow spaceshipo_glorianna on July 3rd, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
What was wrong with Love in the Time of Cholera or whatever it's actually called? I'm debating whether or not to invest the time and mental energy to read, but I never got around to reading One Hundred Years of Solitude either and am still an ok person despite that so I dunno. I'm also slightly (and by 'slightly' I mean 'a lot') irreverent when I'm sleep-deprived, which would be now.

You have a spiffy new journal layout...I think? Regardless, it's colourful! And fresh!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: MCR: red tiesscoradh on July 3rd, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
Here! I outline AT LENGTH, WITH MUCH CAPSLOCK (and also spoilers), just what was wrong with Love. But don't let that stop you. I think everyone should experience the horror for herself.

lol, I change it all the time. It's usually something from the first page of random options. The green is refreshing!

Edited at 2008-07-04 11:37 am (UTC)
R.J.'s Talkback Plebe Radioluciusmalfoy on July 4th, 2008 05:52 am (UTC)
It is very dull, yes.

And it did win the Booker. And this was even before it became the Man Booker and they gave it to any old fuck.

I would recommend his other book however, the Tax Inspector, which has a beautiful fucked up boy with angels wings, a psychotic hare krishna, and yeah, real fucked uppedness.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: socksscoradh on July 4th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)
What's the deal with that anyway? 'Man' Booker sounds faintly misogynistic.

hahaha, that sounds like a fanfic. *amused*