Oscar and Lucinda won the 1988 Booker Prize and was made into a
beautiful movie, I am told, and it is easy to see why. It vividly
recreates 19th century England and Australia as it tells an impassioned
love story. And it is clever. When Lucinda the heiress confesses her
love of gambling to Oscar the clergyman, he says that is not a sin.
Believing in God is gambling, too, he says, referring to Pascal’s
Wager: there is no reason to believe or disbelieve in God, but it’s
wiser to bet He exists because we lose nothing if He doesn’t exist but
gain infinite happiness and eternal life if He does.
Lucinda is shocked to hear this from a clergyman, but they settle down to a game of cards, for Oscar is a gambler too.
With colourful characters like that, and history and romance in the
bargain, what’s there not to like about this novel? Well, it’s a little too
long and the ending is jarring.
Of course, it has to end in tragedy, given the nature of the hero
and the heroine. Lucinda is the conventionally unconventional 19th
century heroine, rebelling against convention and paying for it. Oscar
the gambler and eventually defrocked clergyman is a tortured soul, a
But the author gives a savage twist to the plot when after
describing their romance almost throughout the book, he suddenly
introduces another woman who destroys their relationship in just a
couple of pages. Miriam not only wrenches the lovers apart but gets
everything in the process, for she finds out about Oscar’s gamble with
Lucinda. A gamble in which the winner takes all.