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OSCAR & LUCINDA by Peter Carey (Perennial Library / Harper & Row: $8.95)

June 11, 1989|ELENA BRUNET

Winner of the 1988 Booker Prize, this novel is the story of two star-crossed lovers and of the ambitious though possibly ill-advised venture of building a glass church in the sunny Australian Outback.

Oscar Hopkins, the son of a righteous Puritan preacher, is reared in Victorian England and becomes a more reasonable Anglican minister. Lucinda Leplastreir grows up fatherless in rural Australia; her mother eventually sells off the farm and when she dies leaves Lucinda a small fortune.

What brings these two people together is their mutual love of gambling. Lucinda confesses her compulsion to Oscar, and he responds thus: "Our whole faith is a wager . . . we bet that there is a God. . . . We calculate the odds, the return, that we shall sit with the saints in Paradise . . . we must gamble every instant of our allotted span. We must stake everything on the unprovable fact of His existence."

The novel's conclusion is itself based on a wager: Lucinda bets her inheritance against Oscar's when he proposes to transport the glass cathedral across the Outback; Oscar's gamble is that this undertaking may gain him Lucinda's love.

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