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Parrot and Olivier in America Hardcover – 4 Feb 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (4 Feb. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571253296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571253296
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 343,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`[An] exhilarating tour de force ... Fizzing with the fictional panache that has twice won him the Booker prize.' --Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

`One hell of a ride ... there are scenes here as dramatic and as poignant as any Carey has ever written ... At the same time, Parrot and Olivier contains some wonderfully funny moments.' --John Preston, Sunday Telegraph

`Carey is a wily and supremely confident storyteller on a grand scale ... Within the covers is a complex discussion of the philosophy of democracy, and yet Parrot and Olivier is most strikingly beautiful at its most elemental.' --Russell Celyn Jones, The Times

`A brilliantly written ripsnorter of a yarn ... Carey doesn't so much reanimate history by back-projecting modern-day concerns on to the past as make it come alive in lurid living colour.'
--Peter Murphy, Irish Times

Book Description

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America is the story of an extraordinary friendship across two continents, from the author of Amnesia, Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang.


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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
The novel opens in France where sickly, sensitive Olivier de Garmont and the remnants of his aristocratic family have survived the Revolution and the Terror of 1793, and are surviving the Bonaparte regime in their chateau in Normandy. The restoration of the monarchy brings no joy to Olivier's family, and his family decides to send him to America - ostensibly to study prison reform.

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.
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87 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Jon on 11 Feb. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Peter Carey has always been a master at the unreliable narrator and in Parrot and Olivier we are treated to two of the them, alternating chapters and versions of the truth. Olivier is a spoilt young French aristocrat who is sent abroad to save his skin at the time of the 1830 revolution. His unwilling servant is Parrot who has far more practical commonsense than his master but has been sorely abused by dubious French aristocrats before. Both of the damaged heroes are searching for love and respect and to varying degrees they find it, though in both cases their long term happiness is in doubt. At least one of our narrators has a genuine historical counterpart, and other characters we meet have a passing resemblance to real people. However, Carey, as usual, has his way of subverting history, while at the same time he raises issues about the relationship between the New and Old Worlds, and the ways that they are governed . Don't expect Henry James, do expect Peter Carey on top form.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Antenna TOP 100 REVIEWER on 6 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
That this is an old-fashioned "good yarn" was not initially clear to me because, being the work of a twice Booker prize-winner who has chosen to use the style of the early C19 in which the story is set, the sentiments and language tend to be quite wordy and flowery.

The narration alternates between the two main characters. Olivier is the delicate, pampered French aristocratic, whose overprotective mother, traumatised by the guillotining of her close relatives, insists on packing him off to America to escape the risk of prison or worse in a politically volatile France. Parrott, the wily, hard-bitten servant in thrall to the manipulative Monsieur, a close friend of "Maman", is sent off to look after, and also spy on Olivier. From an initial mutual dislike, an understanding and "modern" friendship grows, of the type that could only occur in the New World.

After wading through the first chapter about Olivier, which I found very stiff and unnatural (perhaps intentionally in view of his family's fossilised values), I got used to the style of writing, and became absorbed in the characters and the plot. Many scenes and dialogues are very entertaining or imaginative (sometimes a bit too far-fetched!), and there is some powerful drama, as in the scene where men leap, their bodies on fire, out of a blazing building. Descriptions of Dartmoor where Parrot spent some of his childhood are very vivid, and his nostalgia for life with his long-dead father is moving.

Some of the minor characters are rather sketchy, even unconvincing, although Godefroy father and daughter are "flesh and blood" representatives of a new-style "meritocracy".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. C. G. Leggatt on 29 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
Peter Carey has not written an "un-put-downable" book - the plot lines just aren't tight and sustaining enough - and the reader is left primarily to enjoy a slowly developing respect, almost friendship, between a master and a servant in the mid-nineteenth century. When Parrot, the servant, narrates there is much meandering and musing and I often longed for a crisper pace. There are extraordinary coincidences and some oddities that grate - Parrot, writing in the nineteenth century, would not have referred to "Elizabeth 1" anymore as, today, we would refer to Queen Anne 1. He is 49 years old and yet, in an age of shorter life-expectancy, two people who were adults when he was a child are still around, despite both having physical impairments. Finally, for me, Parrot seems weakly resigned to never seeing his wife and child in Australia again - surely his every action should be vigorously directed toward a reunion.

The above noted, there remains considerable charm and sharp observation of time and place that ultimately makes this a delightful read - if one that you do have to work at. The younger aristocratic Olivier is a good balance to Parrot and his blossoming in America is well developed. He also has some brilliantly written "laugh out loud" lines that are a nice foil to Parrot's more plodding narrative. Despite frustrations, I'm glad I stayed the course.
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