Giovanni Nascimento Nascimento từ Abergwili, Carmarthen, Carmarthenshire SA32 7ER, Vương Quốc Anh
Okay, so I finally finished this, after what, 2 years? In my defence, I did lose my copy of the book when I was about halfway through. But truthfully, that isn't the *only* reason it took me so long. This is an incredibly slow, dense read, which isn't a bad thing as far as I'm concerned; it's packed very full of stunning detail that serves more to create an atmosphere (and what an atmosphere!) than to move the plot along. A great number of these details -- "long, thin, necks like twisted rubber bands"; "the dangerous smell of the city poor: musty cotton, fustian, toasted herrings"; "the air was redolent with fear and wet fur"; "...as lovely as a good butcher cutting a carcass, the quick movements of knife, the softness and yielding of fat from around kidneys, the clean separating of fat from bone" -- will stay with me forever. Carey's range is just fabulous here, soaring from blunt, earthy humour -- "his anus itched beyond belief"; "If she had been God she would've given him a thwack across the earhole and sent him to bed" to a breathtaking lyricism, as in this description of what a woman feels as she presses herself against her lover: "....shivering, as once, in the potteries of Stafford, she had pressed wet clay against a plaster mould. She would be a plate, God save her. Let the aproned decorators paint dancing Cossacks around her rim, or dead blacks like spokes around a poisoned water-hole," and in this gorgeous, gorgeous passage I keep reading and rereading: "....[she] knew already the lovely contradictory nature of glass and she did not have to be told, on the day she saw the works at Darling Harbour, that glass is a thing in disguise, an actor, is not solid and all, but a liquid, that an old sheet of glass will not only take on a royal and purplish tinge but will reveal its true liquid nature by having grown fatter at the bottom and thinner at the top, and that even while it is as frail as the ice on a Parramatta puddle, it is stronger under compression than Sydney sandstone, that it is invisible, solid, in short, a joyous and paradoxical thing, as good a material as any to build a life from." But in the end I'm withholding a star because I think Carey's love for quirky detail occasionally gets in the way of character development here, most egregiously in the matter of the title characters' motivations. He seems so intent on making Oscar and Lucinda memorably weird (a mission in which he succeeds magnificently) that I couldn't quite see why they fall in love, or even why they embark upon the grand wager that is supposed to define the whole plot. The ending, too, presented some problems for me: Oscar is high on laudanum, sure, but apart from the villainous Mr. Jeffris, who is motivated by pure selfishness (and therefore easy to understand), the other characters remain fascinating but opaque. This is particularly problematic in the case of the narrator's great-grandmother, Miriam -- we've given the narrator the benefit of the doubt throughout the novel, allowed him to know all this stuff he really shouldn't know and to recede into the background after drawing attention to his presence in the story, because he is the great-grandson of Oscar and Miriam -- and Carey doesn't let us forget the narrator, who pops up once again towards the end -- but then we're left asking ourselves why on earth Miriam does the things she does, which lead indirectly to the narrator's existence, and which are therefore the whole reason this story is being told. The imagery in the final chapter is stunning, but still I closed the book with a "hmmm...." rather than a "wow."