Parrot & Olivier in America Audio CD – Apr 1 2010
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"Carey has twice won the Man Booker Prize and by all rights should be nominated for a third for "Parrot and Olivier in America," a novel as big and bold as the country itself. This work showcases Carey at his finest, bringing together all his considerable strengths and obsessions . . . Carey [is] a sheer magician with language . . . He delivers a riot of unexpected plot twists and pleasures . . . An utter tour de force . . . Columbus might have discovered America, but with this new novel, Carey gives us the thrill of discovering his adopted home--our adopted home--all over again."--"Miami Herald""Another feat of acrobatic ventriloquism, joining Carey's masterpieces, "Jack Maggs "and "True History of the Kelly Gang ." . . Carey's most marvelous invention is Tocqueville's traveling companion, Parrot . . . It's a brilliant alteration of history and a source of rich comedy . . . Outrageous and witty." --Ron Charles, "Washington Post"" """Parrot and Olivier "is amusing and wise and graceful to a degree that we almost don't deserve."--Laura Miller, "Salon" "Peter Carey re-imagines Alexis de Tocqueville's American journey with a verve that is nothing short of captivating. "Parrot and Olivier "is a rollicking debate about America and its opportunities, its society and class distinctions. Carey's characters and landscapes breathe, resulting in a work that one hates to see come to an end . . . It is one timely work of historical fiction."--"Denver Post" "Carey is as various, often as brilliant, and always as irreverent as they come . . . Mischievous but with a serious underlay.""--"Richard Eder, "Boston Globe"" ""Carey braids his story carefully, lovingly. It has all his telltale favorite elements--lawlessness, revolution, hope for the future, men driven by passion. At its heart, "Parrot and Olivier "is a western; the simplest story in history, sculpted down to a twinkle in a philosopher's eye: Man's search for free --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Twice winner of the Booker Prize, Peter Carey's most recent novel Parrot and Olivier in America was described by the New Yorker as 'a comic masterpiece' and by the Sunday Times as 'an exhilarating tour-de-force'. It was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and a National Book Award in 2010. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Parrot, considerably older than Olivier, is the son of an itinerant English printer. Olivier and Parrot are brought together by the mysterious one-armed Marquis de Tilbot whose presence looms large across the novel. When Olivier sets sail for America, Parrot accompanies him as both protector and spy.
The narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, covering both their adventures together and their separate lives. This enables the introduction and exploration of a number of different themes in the novel: including love, politics and ambition. I especially enjoyed the differing views of democracy:
`In a democracy, it seemed, one could not go against a servant's will.' (Olivier)
`I read Tom Paine by candlelight, but for 18 hours a day I was a vassal.' (Parrot)
Olivier is trapped by his past, caught between his aristocratic past and a brash new world where equality means dealing with people of different classes and station in life as though they are equals. Olivier is never really comfortable in America, although when he falls in love with an American heiress he sees some possibilities. Parrot, on the other hand, has already experienced much in his life and is more flexible in his approach to opportunities. It is Parrot's narrative that particularly enriches the story because it enlarges the world beyond that of the myopic Olivier.Read more ›
Did I mention that it's written very well?
Olivier is essentially a re-imagining of the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, the son of a noble family who managed to avoid the guillotine during the reign of terror. On finding himself snubbed as the Bourbons return to the throne following the July Revolution, Olivier's father fears for his son's safety and so with Tilbot's help Olivier's mother arranges for him to travel to America ostensibly on behalf of the French government to undertake a survey of the American Penal system but what he writes is a book on the people and institutions of the budding democracy.
If any of this sounds complicated then I can assure you that this is very much a simplification of what is a sometimes irritatingly convoluted book. The narrative goes back and forwards between the two main protagonist as the old world invades the new and there are some very telling judgements made on the culture, political institutions and the nature and social etiquette of the people of the new democracy and as an Englishman living in Canada it has made think a lot about the differences of living in a nation that still has some notions of aristocratic entitlement as compared with a nation when essentially anyone can reach the heights that come with public office, especially when one has money to grease the wheels.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Olivier is Olivier Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Barfleur, born to a centuries-old family of the high nobility in France. Unfortunately, it is a France that no longer exists, and Olivier's loyalty to the new state is suspect. It is safer, more circumspect, for O. to disappear for a while. A fact-finding expedition to the United States, to examine New World prison systems, offers the perfect excuse. O.'s mama' is worried, though. She doesn't want her darling little boy to fall prey to some New World harpy. Parrot -Perroquet -is dragooned into going along as Olivier's secretary and servant, and as O's mother's spy on her son. Parrot is English, and no aristocrat -no, far from it! He knows his birth name -John Larrit--but isn't certain when or where he was born. His father, an itinerant printer who is eventually transported for forgery, quoted Rousseau to his son very early and Parrot starts the journey with nothing but disdain for his noble master.
Over time they become more than friends, in a friendship between two men who could not be more different -in their looks, dress, sensibilities and affections, and prejudices. Although Olivier tries to admire America -at one point, he even proposes marriage to an American beauty--he cannot shake his disdain of men's commonness in this raw country and he is fearful of what America will become in little time. For Parrot, America offers a new beginning: his dreadful past counts for nothing in this grand open land. And that is one of the many excellences of this truly exceptional popular novel: Carey uses his two narrators, O. and P., to voice disparate and sometimes conflicting views of the New World, and he doesn't load the case for one view or the other. Because what both men say about the new country they are observing is true: Andrew Jackson's America is raw; money rules all; only the thinnest veneer of culture exists even in the highest ranks of society; and on and on the observations go. Americans then, as now, were a problematic people, hard to encapsulate in one simple truism.
Carey, who has won two Booker Prizes in the past, is a consummate word worker. The descriptions in this book are apt and powerful. The captain of the ship that carries O. and P. to the States "was as hard and scrawny as a piece of rope. He had rheumy squinting eyes, a tobacco-stained mustache, a rum drinker's nose, and absolutely no arse at all. But his fingers were large and white and soft, made for the dark and secret places of a sailor's life." Olivier reminiscences about an Normandy "when the air was rich with summer hay and the orchard fruit lay amongst the grass, rich rotten peaches, bees crawling the blossoms, wax melting, honey dripping from the beehive frames."
O.'s final judgment on this strange new country he has tried to adjust to but failed is "this democracy. It is a truly lovely flower, a tiny tender fruit, but it will not ripen well. ... I tried to love it. I could not." "Poor devil," thinks Parrot. "Is it not obvious to him that the people are making their own future very well? . . . America is new." Earlier P. reflects that America is a country "whose people have more stages in their lives than caterpillars."
One final comment: Parrot sees himself as a failed artist: he is good with line as an engraver's son might be expected to be but sees no subtlety in what he limns. His `wife" Mathilde, on the other hand, is an exceptional artist, whose paintings glow with a light of their own, beneath the surface of skin and woods and object. There is a great deal of talking about art in this book, mostly but not solely when Parrot is the narrator. There is also a succinct judgment of the paintings of Thomas Cole that is as to the point as anything I have come across. Carey writes with a painter's eye, and that is one of many reasons that this fine book deserves the widest possible reading audience.
Peter Carey has based Olivier on Alexis de Tocqueville. In fact, Carey emphasizes on his website that he has threaded Olivier's commentary with excerpts from "Democracy in America," de Tocqueville's masterpiece. Olivier is a great character. He is a French aristocrat, fleeing democracy in his own country but fascinated by its operation in America; a highly cultured Frenchman, who is sometimes hilariously snobbish about American culture and cooking; and a young bachelor who falls in love with Amelia, a natural aristocrat and the daughter of a wealthy Connecticut farmer. Ultimately, Olivier must decide: Can a man with his background and values assimilate in democratic America?
Meanwhile, Parrot, whose real name is John Larritt, arrives in America without a good working relationship with Olivier, his boss. In his long association with Tilbot, Larritt has become skilled in art appraisal and the art business. But, he can serve no equivalent function for Olivier, who simply wants a servant and secretary. In America, Larritt is faced with the challenge of personal reinvention and must ultimately determine if and how America can suit his and his wife's talents.
In telling the story of Parrot and Olivier, Carey uses many narrative devices and issues that exist elsewhere in his oeuvre. This, for example, is my fourth Carey book that features a book within a book. (The others were Jack Maggs: A Novel, True History of the Kelly Gang: A Novel, and My Life as a Fake). Meanwhile, themes in PaOiA that are prominent in other Carey novels include fraternal tension and responsibility, absent fathers, fraudulent behavior by artists (Theft), and the mysterious power of love (His Illegal Self (Vintage International)). Similar to other Carey novels, PaOiA also has an abundance of sympathetic characters and writing that is brisk and sometimes amazingly lyrical.
Even so, I'd rate PaOiA a notch below Carey's other work. In part, I'd attribute this to the highly coincidental events featuring the character O'Hara, which serve to reunite Parrot and Olivier. I wonder: Are these events a direct reference to de Tocqueville's actual experiences in New York? And, even if they are, why are they necessary?
Also, I'd say that the critical relationships in this novel are men to women--that is, Parrot to Mathilde and Olivier to Amelia. In contrast, the relation between Parrot and Olivier, which gets lots of space, was primarily economic and functional. That's certainly okay. But I think Carey strived, but failed, to make that relationship mean more.
Marked up to four stars.
In addition, I didn't find either of the characters particularly sympathetic, so that I was not able to drum up much interest in their stories. Switching from one to the other constantly didn't help this either.
In the end, while I appreciated Carey's style, I was left feeling as if we never found out the end of Olivier's story (although Parrot's was resolved nicely) and that, to me, was unsatisfying.
Between the two voices, the unsympathetic characters, and the lack of resolution, I felt as if I was reading the middle of a larger book and not a complete novel.