E S Pittenger, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by E S Pittenger)
Peter Carey, two-time Booker Prize winner and a nominee again in 2010, has written an improvisational "what-if" novel based on Alexis de Tocqueville. Olivier de Garmont ("Tocqueville") sets off with his reluctant side-kick and traveling companion, Parrot (aka John Larrit) to explore the New World.
Through their eyes, Carey recreates the young democracy and fledgling power, America of the mid 19th C., for us to discover at the same time as they do.
Olivier is the last heir of French aristocrats who kept their heads following the Revolution but fear for their son's safety under Napoleon. To protect him, they send him to America to undertake an examination of its penal system and the extraordinary idea behind it: that criminals can be reformed in prison. The mysterious one-armed Monsieur, the Marquis de Tilbot, a family friend, introduces Olivier to his protege-servant, Perroquet, or Parrot, a sublimely arrogant individual who trained as an engraver when he was apprenticed among a den of forgers in England, who were put out of business in a gory manner. The child Parrot fled into the woods, dodging Lord Devon's bullets.
Years later, Parrot and Olivier are United under the conspiratorial eye of Monsieur. After some arm twisting and manipulation, it is agreed that Olivier, accompanied by "secretary" Parrot, will set sail for America to write a book on prison reform, complete with engravings by Parrot, of course.
That Olivier and Parrot are opposite personalities, with nothing in common except their shared escapes from premature death, and that they are antagonistic yet dependent upon one another, drives the tale forward. Because of their antipathy, we see the new country from two points of view (not always from a positive aspect), and witness the changes in the heroes who labor under the influence of new American ideas and prosper among new American acquaintances.
Both men awaken, but in different ways and to differing resolutions: Olivier to the love of a particularly independent young American woman; Parrot to the bounteous prospects entrepreneurship offers, which he dreams will lift him into independence.
Carey's latest novel reads like a Dickensian picaresque. It is a book rich in characterization, atmosphere, theme, and language; it is vigorous, brilliant, original, and superbly entertaining. It is a book I would read again and again, desert island or no, and one that I can recommend to readers without reservation.
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kannoki26, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by kannoki26)
Wry, funny and oftentimes laugh out loud, "Parrot and Olivier" is written by a master of the English language. Democracy is seen at its best, or worst, depending on your viewpoint.
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betsytacy, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by betsytacy)
This was my favorite book of 2011. Carey introduces two unforgettable characters and tells a rollicking good story of life in America, France, and England in the late 18th century.
Knopf Publishing Group -
Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey plus real-life historical figures? Oh, I'm in — and you will be, too. This time, it's Democracy in America author Alexis de Tocqueville who gets Carey's funny and incredibly compelling fictionalized treatment. Carey at his best!
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"The eminently talented Carey (Theft) has the gift of engaging ventriloquism, and having already channeled the voices of Dickens's Jack Maggs and the Australian folk hero/master thief Ned Kelly, he now inhabits Olivier-Jean-Baptist de Clarel de Barfleur, a fictionalized version of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose noble parents are aghast at his involvement in the events surrounding Napoleon's return and the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. To remove him from danger, they send him to America, where priggish snob Olivier inspires Carey's humor during his self-centered adventures in New York, New England, and Philadelphia. Olivier can't shake his aristocratic disdain of raw-mannered, money-obsessed Americans — until he falls for a Connecticut beauty. More lovable is Parrot, aka John Larrit, who survives Australia's penal colony only to be pressed into traveling with Olivier as servant and secret spy for Olivier's mother. Though their relationship begins in mutual hatred, it evolves into affectionate comradeship as they experience the alien social and cultural milieus of the New World. Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Paul Auster,
"Peter Carey is a wily seducer, a mental acrobat who can bound across continents and centuries and make us believe in whatever world he has discovered and imagined. Parrot and Olivier transports us to the rough-and-tumble America of 1830, and it's possibly the most charming and engaging novel this demon of a story-teller has yet written. His prose has never been more buoyant, more vigorous, more musical. Open this book and listen to Peter Carey sing."
by Booklist (starred review),
"Peter Carey's latest imaginative and commanding tale [is] a thrillingly fresh and incisive drama of extraordinary personalities set during a time of world-altering vision and action....His transfixing novels are at once sharply funny and profoundly resonant....Brilliant."
by Daily Telegraph,
"I have been reading with astonishment and envy Parrot and Olivier in America....Carey is a writer I prize not only for his remarkable Dickensian plots but also for the brilliance of his style....He is the most exuberant stylist at work in English today."
by New Yorker.com,
"One of those comic masterpieces that seems effortless while making you realize that Carey writes some of the best sentences in English."
From the two-time Booker Prize-winning author comes an irrepressibly funny new novel set in early-19th-century America.
Parrot and Olivier in America has been shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.
From the two-time Booker Prize-winning author comes an irrepressibly funny new novel set in early nineteenth-century America.
Olivier—an improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville—is the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English printer. They are born on different sides of history, but their lives will be connected by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.
When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United States—ostensibly to make a study of the penal system, but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolution—Parrot will be there, too: as spy for the marquis, and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.
As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, between their picaresque adventures apart and together—in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands—a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the experiment of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness and with all the richness and surprise of characterization, imagery, and language that we have come to expect from this superlative writer.
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