Street libraries really are the ‘gift that keeps on giving’, aren’t they? Like a secret messaging system or gift exchange, a knitting project – knit one, pearl one, read one, leave one – for bookish sorts like me. I met a man once as I stood browsing my local, who told me its owner/caretaker (it’s on her front wall – painted to match) worked for a publishing house, which not only made perfect sense but also explained the range and the quality of our neighbourhood selection. I felt like I’d won the street library lottery!
Peter Carey‘s 1988 Booker Prize-winning Oscar & Lucinda is certainly no new release, but I’d never read it. So when I noticed it through the glass-panelled front door of its little library house during Sydney’s extended COVID lockdown (in 2021) – during which we were only permitted to wander within 5kms of home – I decided it was now or never. It had been a while between book reviews. Oscar & Lucinda was over 500 pages, and very teeny tiny print, so over the weeks it took me to plough through it, it became a metaphor of sorts for the strange rhythm that became #lockdownlife. Knit one, pearl one.
It was worth every moment. In fact nary enough space in a single post to review this epic 19th-century tale of unrequited love.
“Lucinda duplicated his stance without meaning to; that is, she hugged herself, kept her arms locked firmly around her own body while she felt the space between them as if it were a living thing.”
UNIVERSE, SHOW ME IT’S UNREQUITED LOVE WITHOUT TELLING ME IT’S UNREQUITED LOVE.
I could have wept.
This yarn was so deftly spun that it expanded and contracted as if by magic, like a spider’s web but from the outside in; a thing of wild, organic beauty except that every glistening thread has actually, on the contrary, been ever so carefully teased into existence by its patient creator.
All testament to the unassuming brilliance of Carey’s remarkable storytelling, of course.
I went into this story completely blind. I’d heard of it, but honestly, if I’d read a synopsis I likely would have thought ‘not my bag’, as I tend to read almost exclusively non-fiction. No, I never saw the film.
So, if a bizarre 550-page period saga slash romantic comedy slash deep dive into Christian fundamentalism slash gut-wrenching tragedy that lurches like a sinking ship between the Devon coast, the race track at Epsom, filthy, bawdy colonial Sydney, and the eery backwaters of Bellingen (in the hinterlands of the NSW north coast) doesn’t appeal to you, read this book. Please.
If I didn’t have a foot-high stack of books by my bedside and a list of 50 ‘to reads’ in my i-Notes, I’d be turning back to Page 1 of Oscar & Lucinda tonight just to feel it all over again.