Like Graham Swift's Waterland, Oscar and Lucinda asserts that the self constructs its past as a fictional story. Describing how anger dominated Lucinda's mother's life after the death of her husband, the narrator proceeds to explain that Lucinda
did not know her mother well. This was not what she imagined. All her life she dusted and polished the fiction she had made as a child: that they were "intimates," like sisters. In her memory there was always laughing and hair brushing, and tickling and cuddling... All these things really happened, but if they were remembered so vividly it was because anxiety and bad temper had been far more common. (73)
Lucinda fabricates a close, loving relationship with her mother and though this construction is not representative of the truth, it provides her more comfort than the reality of the relationship. Comparing with Crick's ordering of past events, Lucinda remembers only the pleasant memories with her mother and assembles them into a cohesive narrative. Attributing this ordering to her "memory," the narrator implies that the mind naturally creates this fiction as a coping mechanism. Explicating his belief in the constructed past, Carey, in an interview, asserts that human beings "absolutely invent themselves" (Willbanks, 52). Like Waterland's Crick, Carey's characters construct their past like a narrative as part of a natural mechanism to cope with reality.
Carey's novel consciously plays with the reader to exemplify the human desire to believe in stories that Crick discusses in Waterland. Beginning the story by calling Oscar his "great-grandfather" (1), the narrator implies that he exists because Oscar had sexual intercourse with someone, thereby producing his grandparent. Naming the novel Oscar and Lucinda and dedicating the plot equally to Oscar's and Lucinda's development, Carey leads the reader to believe that Oscar and Lucinda end up having a sexual relationship. Furthermore, Carey's narrator prefaces Oscar's and Lucinda's first encounter by telling the reader, "In order that I exist, two gamblers, one Obsessive, the other Compulsive, must meet" (187). Although this statement implies that Oscar and Lucinda have sex, the text never explicitly asserts this relationship; the reader chooses to make this connection because the reader wants to believe the story. Carey knows the reader's desire to believe and plays on this desire. The narrator introduces Miriam earlier in the novel but does not call her his "great-grandmother" (422) until Oscar and Miriam meet. Entitling the next chapter, which begins after Oscar and Miriam have sex, "Oscar and Miriam" (422), Carey plays on the novel's title Oscar and Lucinda that originally led the reader to believe in their future sexual relationship. Carey constructs his novel so that the reader becomes a living example of the human desire to believe and find meaning in stories.
Other parts of this essay
Last modified 1 March 2004
Last modified 1998