April 18, 2010

Parrot and Olivier in America - Peter Carey

I must admit I wasn't really all that interested in reading Parrot and Olivier in America until I saw that it had been long listed for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award. That's not to say that my reading choices are necessarily dictated by awards lists but I have found some gems by reading this way. I have only read two Peter Carey books before - both of them for university English courses. The first was The Fat Man in History - possibly the most different and bizarre book I had read at that time in my young life - and I loved it. The second was Oscar and Lucinda which I found a real struggle to read (let alone write about for exams!).

Parrot and Olivier in America is based on the true life story of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and politician who travels to America in 1831 to study the prison system there but ends up writing a book titled Democracy in America. I have to admit that I had never heard of Tocqueville before learning that he was the inspiration for Carey's book and I wish I had read more about him before reading this novel as it possibly would have meant more to me in that context.

The Parrot and Olivier mentioned in the title are the two men whose lives are followed in the book. Parrot is the son of an English printer whose life path eventually crosses with Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Barfleur de Garmont - a French nobleman who is forced to leave his beloved home country for America in fear for his life during the revolution. Parrot is sent as his servant but their relationship, and their individual characters, changes over the course of the novel and their travels.

Of course this is only a very simplistic summary of the plot and content of this novel and the reading of it, for me, was like reading a great big adventure story - plenty of twists and turns and action to keep things moving along. I can't help feeling at the end though that I haven't really captured the essence of what the book was about - but hey - I enjoyed the ride anyway!


Anonymous said...

Hello there!
I really can't remember whether I've already introduced myself to you or not (toomany blogs in reader). So if you've heard this before, skip it: My name is Susi and I've only recently started blogging. I've been a lurker on your blog for a while now and thought I'd finally give this 'active participation' a chance. Anyway, it's really nice to meet you!

I've had my eye on this book for a while now and your review has finally made me add it definitively to the TBR-list. I've got a degree in American Studies, so I've read Alexis de Tocqueville's 'Democracy in America'. Can't say I'm a big fan of Tocqueville, his text was extremely difficult to read and understand. But Carey's approach might just make me appreciate the Master a little more. I've only read 'Jack Maggs' (a re-writing of 'Great Expectations) by Carey, but I enjoyed that immensely.

Anyway, long story short - it's nice to meet you!

Karen said...

Hi Susi - welcome to the blogging world! So nice to "meet" you. This might be just the book for you - I wish I had spoken with you before reading this one - it would have been great to get that context!

Elise said...

Hi Karen, this is on my TBR list. Thanks for the review!! Sounds good!! :)

Rebecca Chapman said...

I would love to read this book, and it would be great to read it before the Sydney Writers Festival this year where Peter Carey is talking about this work.

Peter Carey is hit and miss for me. I loved The True History of the Kelly Gang, but Oscar and Lucinda was soo hard. I own it and have never been able to finish it.

I will add this to my wish list with a link to your review.

Unknown said...

The only Peter Carey book I've read is Oscar and Lucina. I loved the first section, but found the second bit in Australia a bit too slow. I really should read some more of his books as they all sound so different.

I think I'll start with Kelly Gang, as it is the only other one I own, but I would like to get to this one at some point.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I've been waffling about this one. I've never read anything by Peter Carey, though I hear wonderful things, and I'm wondering if I should start with this or with one of his earlier works. Am still confused, actually. Any advice?

Frances said...

Have a copy of this but something has been holding me back. A little of that same something I think I hear in your voice here. But so many just love it, and you paint such a favorable picture of it that I will pick it up next month. Love the cover on your edition too. Much better than mine. Happy reading!

Steph said...

Carey is an author that interests me, but I'm going to read The True History of the Kelley Gang first! Because that's the one I own! ;)

Onesimus said...

The only Peter Carey book I've read is Illywhacker, for a university course, but I don't remember anything about it.

And one of the worst book buying decisons I ever made was in not buying an autographed first edition of his Kelly Gang book before it won the Booker Prize.

Jodie said...

This sounds really good. It's been ages since I've read any Peter Carey (love his earlier stuff, mixed on the later books). I think you might get on well with Jack Maggs if you fancy trying more of his books.

Tribute Books said...

Must try his books, thanks!

Karen said...

Hi Elise - I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

Hi Becky - I understand what you mean about Carey's books - it sounds like you and I have had similar experiences with his work. I would like to hear him talk at the SWF though.

Hi Jackie - I totally hear you when it comes to Oscar and Lucinda! I hope The Kelly Gang works out better for you.

Hi Claire - I'm probably not the best person to ask for advice when it comes to Carey's books although it sounds like The Kelly Gang is a bit of a winner across the board so maybe a good place to start??

Hi Frances - I say give it a go - I think there is plenty to discover in this book and it is a fairly quick read.

Hi Steph - that sounds like the perfect first choice!

Hi Onesimus - I bet you are kicking yourself for that one!!

Hi Jodie - thanks for the suggestion!

Hi Tribute Books - I hope you enjoy them!

claire said...

I'm really attracted to the title and cover and premise of this one. But have yet to read Kelly Gang on my tbr. Will surely read this after I'm done with that other one. I don't know about Tocqueville myself but it just sounds so interesting. Thanks for the featuring the book! :D

Anonymous said...

I've had a copy of Oscar and Lucinda waiting on my shelf but I never got around to reading it yet. You've reminded me about it, and recommended an interesting book at the same time!

Happy Reading,

-Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

ps. nice to meet you and congrats on the 2yr blog b-day!

Karen said...

Hi Claire - it sounds like a few of you are going to be reading The Kelly Gang so I'll be looking out for your thoughts on that one to see if I will be reading more of Carey in the future.

Hi Lydia - thanks for dropping by. It is always lovely to "meet" another blogger - and I absolutely love your blog title!

Anonymous said...

I just found this at the library yesterday on the shelf, not on reserve! I started reading it on the way home and am already entranced. Carey is one of my favorites. I'm especially

Thanks for this review! Now I know I picked a good book

Karen said...

Hi frisbeebookjournal - that's exactly how I got hooked into this one! Once I had started it I couldn't go back to the other book I was supposed to be finishing. I hope you continue to enjoy it.