Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey’s third novel, won the Booker Prize in 1988 and three Australian literary prizes the following year. The novel consists of 110 chapters, and, though readers might assume it is a romance based on its title, the novel plays with audience expectations. Carey interweaves Oscar’s story and Lucinda’s story until they meet (briefly) in chapter 50.

Oscar and Lucinda is a parody of the Victorian novel, juxtaposing the realist conventions of that form with self-conscious narrative interruptions from Oscar’s great-grandson as he narrates the Victorian-era story. Some critics have likened this metafictional novel to The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) by John Fowles. Carey’s method of ordering the novel promotes questions about partial truths, lies, and omissions of personal and public history. On a personal level, for instance, the narrator’s mother ferociously guards the memory of her grandfather, Oscar, as a heroic pioneer minister, not the fidgety gambler who lost his parish because of scandal. The narrator also draws attention to the falsity of local stories about the naming of a wooded area above the town before beginning his own story. Throughout the novel, Carey suggests the ambivalence of any narrative—whether it be a told story, diary, historical record, newspaper report, journal of exploration, or a novel such as Oscar and Lucinda.

Because the novel was first published in Australia’s bicentennial year, it is most often perceived as a literary revision of imperial colonization. The eccentricity and relative integrity of the two main characters, who are alienated from so-called...

(The entire section is 691 words.)