Oscar & Lucinda

by Peter Carey

Paper Book, 1997





New York : Vintage Books, 1997.


A nervous Anglican minister, and a teenage heiress, both infected with a gambling bug, embark on an unlikely quest to transport a glass church across the Outback.

User reviews

LibraryThing member emmakendon
I hadn't got round to reading this when it came out, so it was a loan from a dear friend that at last set me to reading it, and I'm very glad. The two main protagonists are like cats, and Lucinda is likened to a cat a couple of times explicitly in the book; so the drawing of them is from quite an oblique angle. Their communication with each other and with the people who touch their lives mis-aims constantly, and in that sense they are very easy for anyone to relate to! Lucinda is difficult and Oscar is truly an Odd Bod, as his Oxford friend Wardley-Fish dubs him, but Carey takes you by the hand and helps you love them both and wish them some kind of appropriate off-kilter future together defyng the world. The ending is extraordinary - I shan't spoil.… (more)
LibraryThing member piefuchs
A wonderful piece of writing and an excellent example of utilizing the Victorian style structure and narrative in historical fiction. The story is intriguing and full of those minute details that I love in historical fiction (theological debates, comments on fashion at horse races, glass technology, methods in the natural sciences). Both characters, Oscar and Lucinda, are individually so well developed (and memorable)I was almost disappointed when they met and book moved to focus on their relationship. Highly enjoyable!… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Oscar Hopkins grew up in southern England in the mid-1800s, under his father’s iron rule. As a teenager he left his father’s house to become an Anglican minister. He was an introverted and backward young man, called “Odd Bod” by his seminary colleagues. Surprisingly, he befriended Ian Wardley-Fish, a bit of a rake who introduced Oscar to betting on horse races. At the same time, Lucinda Leplastrier grew up in Australia, and came into a sizeable inheritance as she approached adulthood. She bought a glass factory and made her way as an independent business woman. She also became involved with a social group that spent considerable time gambling on cards. Returning from a visit to England, Lucinda met Oscar, who was travelling on the same ship, having decided to take the gospel to New South Wales. Eventually these two empty, dysfunctional people discovered their shared addiction to gambling, and a relationship of sorts blossomed. Their addiction took a bizarre turn when Lucinda bet her fortune on Oscar’s ability to transport a church, made completely of glass, to a remote location in the colony. The novel concludes with this adventure and its consequences.

Peter Carey’s Booker prize-winning novel works both as a love story and an adventure set in an untamed part of the world. The characters of Lucinda and Oscar are well-developed, and the “supporting cast” is equally colorful. The plot gets a bit fantastic at times, and I never quite understood the source of attraction between Oscar and Lucinda. Nevertheless, from the very beginning I was caught up in their lives, eager to learn when and how their paths crossed, and even more curious about the story’s conclusion. I found Carey’s other Booker winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, more enjoyable and better written, but would still recommend Oscar and Lucinda as a very worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member DaptoLibrary
This month's choice, Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda, was never going to be a popular one. Most of our group have either tried reading it in the past or have steered away from it all together.

In my experience, that has been a common reaction to this book, but I decided our group was up to the challenge so included it in this year's line up.

It tells the quirky tale of two very off-beat characters, namely Oacared and Lucinda, who meet by chance and are drawn to each other by an obsession with gambling. But there are other forces at work here and the story that builds around these two protagonists weaves into a complex set of life lessons that only Carey can pull off in a novel.

Our opinions varied - which was completely expected. Nancy and Tera gave it a firm "no thank you". Their comments included; too wordy, terrible ending, jumps around too much and characters unbelievable. Lorna could find no empathy with the characters at all and Carol found it hard work. "I had to plough my way through", she commented.

But on the other end of the scale Denise and Jeanette thought it a wonderful book. Full of beautiful words, great research with so much to say about Australia and its people. Viti loved the language, the short chapters and the symbolic nature of the story.

We did agree that Peter Carey's writing does not make for an easy read and either you like him or you don't. But I believe Oscar and Lucinda to be a very unique story that caters to a vast number of readers. But you must open the book with an open mind, to both the story and the author's style, otherwise you won't get past the first chapter!

I read this book about 10 years ago after being told "it was a load of rubbish!" by a library customer. Here we have the crux to finding good books. One man's rubbish becomes another's treasure. And I'll end with a quote from Denise who summed it up with "I'm so glad I read Oscar and Lucinda. It is a book I will never forget!"

Tell Me This ... "Can someone describe the book's plot?"
We all found the plot of Oscar and Lucinda to be rather elusive and shifting. There appears to be a few points during the story where everything is coming together and then it moves sideways once more and starts building again.
There was a general consensus that Carey used organised religion and gambling as symbols for people's needs to believe and belong, and glass (or more precisely) Oscar's glass church, as a paradigm for life itself. If you are reading Peter Carey, things are never so simple as merely looking for a plot!
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I loved this book...I feel as if I've met two real people (Oscar and Lucinda) rather than two characters in a novel. Peter Carey weaves the tale of these two quirky people, both of whom lost their parents (in one way or anothr) and both of whom are gamblers. They decide to build a glass church and transport it through uncharted, god-less country in Australia as a gift for the local Anglican minister who Lucinda was once friends with.

In spite of the strange people and fantastical nature of the glass church, this is fine writing and a story I became totally absorbed with.

The ending was shocking, not so much because of what happens, but because of the way the writing changes. With the attention to detail and the early lives of the main characters througout the rest of the book, I was expecting a gradual winding up of the plot. But the ending was more like a door slamming shut. And, I was left wanting to know more about what happened to Lucinda.....
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
This is an odd combination of historical fiction - set in Australia in the mid-19th century and love story. The title characters, Oscar, a young English clergyman, and Lucinda, a wealthy independent girl, meet in Sydney. Oscar has the goal of serving God and Lucinda wants to build a church made of glass, which brings the odd couple together, but what the passion they really share, is a love of gambling. Definitely a memorable couple and a very interesting ending - no spoilers here though.… (more)
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
no spoilers; just synopsis

a) don't see the movie unless you read the book...something gets really lost between the two

b)Excellent, simply excellent!!! I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates superlative writing and a quirky story. If every book were like this one, I would be in Heaven!!!! The prose is outstanding and these characters are simply so real I thought they'd float off the page.

Oscar and Lucinda is set both in England and in Australia in the 19th century. In England, Oscar Hopkins is the son of a non-Anglican, religious fundamentalist who is also a naturalist, and up until he is about 15 Oscar grows up with the reassurance that he is among the saved. Oscar's mother died; he lives with his father in a little village called Hennacombe in Devon, in an austere house with no ornamentation; even the food is plain. One Christmas one of the cooks feels sorry for the boy and makes him a Christmas pudding, complete with raisins & a cherry; the ostentatiousness of the pudding leads Theophilus (Oscar's father) to lose it and he hits Oscar, who is then forced to cough up the pudding. Later, they are out wading in the ocean, and Oscar asks that God smite his father out of anger; just then, Theophilus has an accident that cuts him on the leg. Oscar realizes that he has to leave -- and the signs point to the Anglican Church. We next find him at Oxford, at Oriel College, where he discovers gambling. One thing leads to another and Oscar sets out to become a missionary in New South Wales but he has to go by ship...a problem since Oscar has this immense water phobia. It is on this voyage that Oscar meets Lucinda Leplastrier, returning to Australia, whose parents had died & whose mother, before dying, had their land subdivided and sold and Lucinda was now an heiress living off the profits. She is also the owner of a glassworks in Australia. Lucinda is obstinate, headstrong & like Oscar, she is a gambler. The lives of these two people come together on the ship, then meet again after Oscar discovers that there is no Missionary Work to be done in New South Wales, and that he is to be assigned to a posh vicarage instead. He meets Lucinda in a Chinese gambling house ... and things take off from there. I won't say another word... you really should read it for yourself.

The writing is excellent; the story is excellent and there are so many themes that are explored without the author ever losing track. My only complaint: the end came so fast (it was a great ending but rushed) that after having savored the story for so long I felt cheated. However, the rest of the book was absolutely stunning and so rich so I can overlook this.

Please try this book...I can totally see how it won a Booker.
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LibraryThing member edgeworth
The first of Carey’s novels I read was True History of the Kelly Gang, which, at the time, I classified as “good but not great,” only to find that it grew on me the more I thought about it afterwards. His first novel, Bliss, I didn’t find particularly compelling, so I’ve skipped over his second novel, Illywhacker, even though I own it. Instead we come to his third book, Oscar and Lucinda, which won him his first Booker Prize and could safely be considered his break-out novel.

An unconventional love story, Oscar and Lucinda is a historical novel set in the mid-19th century, dealing with the lives of Australian heiress Lucinda Leprastier and English reverend Oscar Hopkins. The novel tracks both of their lives from childhood, as they develop the gambling addiction which eventually brings them together, and turns into a bizarre quest to transport a pre-fabricated glass church across four hundred kilometres of Australian bush to a remote coastal town.

Unlike True History of the Kelly Gang, and even unlike Bliss, Oscar and Lucinda has a tone to it which one might describe as “comic.” The characters and locales are simultaneously realistic yet exaggerated. Carey slips in and out of different character’s heads, often in the same paragraph, and less important characters are often portrayed through the lens of some particular social quirk or obsession which colours their reaction towards either Oscar or Lucinda. This reminded me, more than anything else, of the writing style of Terry Pratchett – characters in the 19th century style who range from vain to petty to frightened to Machiavellian. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly very unusual, and can make things difficult to follow. Nevertheless, Carey paints an evocative picture of colonial Sydney – filthy, parochial, sub-tropical, and avaricious, yet the jewel in Australia’s crown and a city unlike anywhere else in the world – which worked quite well for me as I happened to be visiting Sydney while reading the first half.

The other odd thing about Oscar and Lucinda is that, after a relatively light and comical 450 pages – pages dealing with death and disgrace and misfortune, certainly, but still pages narrated in a humourously whimsical manner – the final 50 pages suddenly plunge into dark and terrifying territory indeed. The very final chapter could fairly be described as a horrific nightmare. I mean this in the best possible way; it came completely out of the left field for me, and was stunning and powerful. Perhaps if I’d been sharper I would have noticed the clues scattered along the way. (I did notice a few of them, but misinterpreted them.) The novel begins strangely, narrated by Oscar’s great-granddaughter, who then fades into near-irrelevance. If it had begun more conventionally, or if I’d been paying closer attention, I would have realised Oscar’s fate was spelt out in the novel’s very first paragraph.

Oscar and Lucinda is a good book. It’s a very odd book, a very unique book, because Peter Carey is really a one-of-a-kind writer. That doesn’t necessarily mean I always enjoy the way he writes – there are more than a few places in Oscar and Lucinda where I was bored – but viewed as a whole, this novel is bold, unique and excellent. It contains a number of scenes that will stick in my memory, and the ending is jaw-dropping. Perhaps, in retrospect, Oscar and Lucinda will grow on me as True History of the Kelly Gang did.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
The greatest literary love story of the last half-century? I honestly didn't care what happened to either of the eponymous egotists. The odd flourish and funny background character couldn't compensate for the rest of this boring, baggy epic.
LibraryThing member EricaKline
Oscar Hopkins is a high-strung preacher's kid with hydrophobia and noisy knees. Lucinda Leplastrier is a frizzy-haired heiress who impulsively buys a glass factory with the inheritance forced on her by a well-intentioned adviser. In the early parts of this lushly written book, author Peter Carey renders the seminal turning points in his protagonists' childhoods as exquisite 19th-century set pieces. Young Oscar, denied the heavenly fruit of a Christmas pudding by his cruelly stern father, forever renounces his father's religion in favor of the Anglican Church. "Dear God," Oscar prays, "if it be Thy will that Thy people eat pudding, smite him!" Lucinda's childhood trauma involves a beautiful doll bought by her struggling mother with savings from the jam jar; in a misguided attempt to tame the doll's unruly curls, young Lucinda mutilates her treasure beyond repair. Neither of these coming-of-age stories quite explains how the grownup Oscar and Lucinda each develop a guilty passion for gambling. Oscar plays the horses while at school, and Lucinda, now an orphaned heiress, finds comfort in a game of cards with an odd collection of acquaintances. When the two finally meet, on board a ship bound for New South Wales, they are bound by their affinity for risk, their loneliness, and their awkwardly blossoming (but unexpressed) mutual affection. Their final high-stakes folly--transporting a crystal palace of a church across (literally) godforsaken terrain--strains plausibility, and events turn ghastly as Oscar plays out his bid for Lucinda's heart. Yet even the unconvincing plot turns are made up for by Carey's rich prose and the tale's unpredictable outcome. Although love proves to be the ultimate gamble for Oscar and Lucinda, the story never strays too far from the terrible possibility that even the most thunderstruck lovers can remain isolated in parallel lives.… (more)
LibraryThing member riverwillow
One of the reviews on the back of the book describes this as 'bizzare' and I can't think of a better description. It is also desperately sad as you yearn for an outcome for the main protagonists that just does not appear. I still cannot make up my mind whether this is a work of genius or not.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
The Booker prize judges love Peter Carey - he's won a couple of times, and I never have. I'm not sure if they picked quite the right book here, or for quite the right reasons, but without having read the shortlist let alone the longlist, I'm not in a reasonable position to pass judgement.

Oscar is brought up by a very religious father, and then converts to the other side rather unexpectedly. He devises a system for gambling that makes him rather successful, and ends up going to Australia to found a new church. Lucinda is the girl he ends up falling in love with on the trip over; she too is a gambler, and something of a lost soul.

My biggest problem with "Oscar and Lucinda?" That it is simply too much like reading Dickens, without the pay-off of having read Dickens. My other problems with the book are legion, but other than the Dickens aspect I'll let them lie. At least I've read here a book people will know about, and can boast of having read it.
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LibraryThing member rwickham
I'm totally shocked to see all these negative reviews as I completely loved this book, cried buckets and so on. It is like a dense, character-rich 19th-c. novel, but more complex in terms of what the characters have to risk, how far outside their ken they have to move according to the baroque circumstances of the plot. I am American so I could be quite wrong but I imagine Australia with its bizarre past as a natural setting for bizarre happenings. Give it a try! Here is one reader at least who found the book so moving that I couldn't bear to see the movie, lest it mess with my internal visualization. Plus Ralph Fiennes seems so totally all wrong for Oscar Hopkins whom I found to be truly one of the most touching characters in literature of the last 20 years or so.… (more)
LibraryThing member tori_alexander
Oscar is the son of Evangelical naturalist Theophilus. Lucinda is the daughter of Elizabeth, a women's rights activist. An unlikely couple, Oscar and Lucinda fall in love but never marry. Instead they build a church of glass and move it into the wilds of New South Wales. They do so as a tribute to each other, but this tribute only takes the place of a love that could have been.

Carey is without doubt a Dickensian author. His novel is a long and complicated genealogy of character studies. Not only are the main protagonists lavishly detailed but also their progenitors, friends, and servants, and in some cases their friends' and servants' ancestors. Carey obviously thinks important the effects of one's social context on desires and decisions. These long stories within stories function to explain Oscar and Lucinda's actions, which are complicated and fraught with conflicting personal values and beliefs. His characters are not quite Dickensian caricatures. They are more real and complicated, like, I would venture, Theophilus' loving and respectful studies of sea creatures (his specialty).

One of the most touching passages in the book occurs when Wardley-Fish, a young friend of Oscar's, stumbles upon Theophilus Hopkins' writings in a book shop, reads his words and appreciates all their tenderness, all the love and emotion the writer felt for God's creation and through these writings he begins to understand his own friend, Oscar, so much better. Wardley-Fish

"...claimed to have no ear for poetry or music and yet he was moved - it nearly winded him - by the elder Hopkins' prose. Where he had expected hellfire and mustard poultice, he found maidenhair and a ribbon of spawn....
To be able to feel these things, to celebrate God's work in such a lovely hymn, Wardley-Fish would have given everything and anything...."

When Wardley-Fish tries to convey his feelings about the writing to his superficial fiancé, the words read aloud to her do not convey their meaning on their own. The listener does not have the sensitivity needed to appreciate such sensitivity.

Theophilus' portrait is one of the most insightful and touching portraits of fatherhood I have ever encountered. It is one (of the many) tragedies told in this story that his son Oscar leaves him over a disagreement about theology. Theophilus loves his son deeply but does not express it as he should. He thinks it is too prideful to feel he loves his own son more than God does. Here in this passage we see the cruel and twisted religious heart decide not to hold his son, making one of a number of bad decisions that prevent full and happy human relationships.

"Sometimes he wished only to lie on the bed and embrace his son, to put his nose into his clean, washed hair, to make a human cage around him, to protect his bird-frail body from harm; and what pride, he thought, what arrogance that would be."

Social propriety and religious superstitions cause all the characters in this novel to stumble and to miss happiness. It dictates actions and cripples good will, reason, and common moral sense.

The large metaphor ruling the narrative is Pascal's wager. To believe in God is to gamble. And, unlike Pascal, Carey says to gamble this way with one's life is obscene and stupid. A sad, well written book.
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LibraryThing member Redon
I was assigned to read this for my Contemporary British Literature class, and admittedly, I *hated* it for the first three-quarters of the book or so; the prose was strange and hard to get into, the characters were mostly unsympathetic (Lucinda was the only one who seemed remotely human rather than just a character), and the plot was bizarre and not terribly absorbing. The professor kept telling us to treat it as a postmodern game rather than a story, but I didn't understand what she meant until the last dozen or so chapters, when everything suddenly fell into place and I got what Carey was trying to do; I enjoyed it much more once I understood how Carey was playing with his audience and their preconceived expectations. I don't think I'll read it again, but it's absolutely worth trying once if you feel like going a round with the author; just don't give up too quickly.… (more)
LibraryThing member amelish
I didn't actually read this movie tie-in version. The text is the same, obviously, but my paperback has an old print of the Crystal Palace on the cover, all undergraduate intro to architecture -style.

This is one of my favorite books EVAR. It's weird, gothic, grotesque, delicate, intricate, brilliant (wonderfully well-written, and also in the sense of evoking light), horrifying, and exhilirating. None of which words mean much by themselves so I'll try and explain better.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of logic, organicism, and irrationality in each of the book's major components: characters' attitudes towards religion; gambling; the conception and realization of the glass church; love in various forms. These three forces (phenomena?) drive the plot as they come together, or into conflict time after time.

Clearly i'm not so good at reviewing books. Just...go read this one.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
I read Oscar and Lucinda years ago, but I don't remember much about it except for the characters' gambling addiction and the attempt to transport a glass church across Australia. I seem to recall that I found it interesting but quite hard-going.
LibraryThing member samfsmith
What an odd book. I don’t mean that the writing is odd - it’s actually very good. The characters are odd, but they are also unique. I don’t think I have encountered any like them before. The plot is also odd - very odd. I don’t want to give anything away, but things do not work out quite the way I expected. Which is probably a good thing.

It’s a historical novel, set in Australia and England in the 1860s. There is a minimal framework where it seems that a modern great-grandchild is actually telling the story. The framework is really only needed for the final twist at the end - and no I won’t reveal what that odd plot twist is - you’ll have to read those 400+ pages to see what it is.
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LibraryThing member rory1000
Quite simply the best thing that Peter carey has ever written.
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
One of my all time favourites.
LibraryThing member Helenliz
Write a review...Hmm. This was just very odd, really. It was a slow starter, taking some time before Oscar & Lucinda met, and there was a certain rhythm to the early section of the book, with intiially long passages being concentrated on Oscar, then on Lucinda. This pace increased until the point they actually met, but there after it just got very strange. I got to the stage where I simply stopped caring about either of them.

it was our first reading group book and none of us liked it, so that was a very short discussion!
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LibraryThing member Helena81
Hmmmm. What an intriguing read. Carey's prose kept me engaged, despite some slow portions of the book, and Oscar is a fascinating "Odd Bod." But the ending seemed rushed and unconvincing.

If I gave half stars, this would probably be 3 1/2 stars.

:::Spoiler alert:::
I missed, or forgot, the glancing reference early on to the narrator's great grandmother taking all Lucinda's money, so I had naively expected Oscar and Lucinda, ultimately to end up together. But Carey was far too brave for such a trite "happily ever after" story.
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LibraryThing member thebookmagpie
I don't know if it's because this is the third book I've read recently that's had excessive soul-searching about various protestant sub-denominations but I was struggling so much to care about anything that happened in this for the first 100 pages that I'm abandoning it. I don't feel like the author's level of technical skill matches the minute detail into which he delves into the subjects and characters involved in this novel. There's nothing massively wrong with it, but it does not feel worth the investment of my time to be perfectly honest.… (more)
LibraryThing member mumoftheanimals
Like many others I found it difficult,to read or enjoy but nevertheless hint it had something. Yet another Booker prize winner I have been unable to cope with.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Carey's descriptions of people and countryside are wonderful. And Oscar Hopkins and Lucinda Leplastrier are two of the most interesting characters I have encountered. I can well see why this book won the Booker Prize in 1988. (One of the other books on the shortlist that year was The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie so it had stiff competition.)

The story takes place in both England and Australia. Oscar Hopkins grew up in Devon as the son of a preacher in a Christian sect called the Plymouth Brethren, an ecumenical movement that did not hold with the celebration of Christmas or other fripperies. Lucinda Leplastrier was Australian born although her parents were English. Her father fell off a horse and died and her mother decided to stay and continue farming their land near Parramatta, which is now part of Sydney but in the 1800s was a separate city. When her mother succumbed to illness Lucinda was left an orphan but quite wealthy. Oscar was also sort of an orphan as his mother had died when he was young and he abandoned his father to go live with the Anglican minister because he felt God wanted him to follow the Anglican faith. Oscar went to Oxford to learn to be a minister himself and while there he started gambling in order to support himself. Lucinda, meanwhile, went to Sydney and purchased a glassworks with her inheritance. In the course of doing so she fell in with two men who would have a lasting effect on her life. The first was The Reverend Dennis Hasset, an Anglican vicar but also a man who had written and lectured about glass. The second was Mr. d'Abbs, an accountant recommended to Lucinda to help her look after her money. d'Abbs was responsible for introducing Lucinda to gambling and Hasset became the object of Lucinda's desire. Lucinda went on a visit to England to either get married or encourage Hasset to propose to her. On the return trip, taken on the huge steamship Leviathan, she met Oscar who was emigrating to Australia. Of course two gamblers will eventually play cards together but during this game a bad storm comes up. Oscar, who is deeply afraid of the sea, thinks this is a judgment and resolves to give up gambling. Nevertheless he falls back into the habit and he and Lucinda end up playing poker in his living room in the house he is entitled to as the vicar of Randwick. When they are discovered at dawn by a church deacon Oscar is turfed out of the church. Lucinda takes pity on him and brings him to her home where the two of them live quite chastely. Lucinda, thinking to put Oscar at ease, tells him she is in love with Hasset although she now loves Oscar. Oscar loves Lucinda but is willing to sacrifice to make Lucinda happy. He proposes that he will deliver a glass church that Lucinda's factory will make to Hasset's congregation in Boat Harbour. They make a wager of their inheritances, he that he will get it to Boat Harbour by Easter and she that he won't. Then Lucinda does all in her power to make Oscar's wager succeed. This unusual proposition is hampered by Oscar's fear of water as the sea is the usual route from Sydney to Boat Harbour. The final chapters detail Oscar's overland trip to Boat Harbour. The ending was a great surprise to me and I will leave it a surprise to any future readers.

Definitely a book worth reading and I would agree that it has its place on the 1001 Books to Read before you Die list.
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