Thursday, September 23, 2010
Following the Booker: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
When my countrymen imagined America, they thought of savages and bears and presidents who would not wear wigs. Who among them could have conjured Miss Godefroy in all her beauty of form and elegance of mind, her wit, her delicacy, her slender ankles amid those mad red leaves?
An exploration of the great adventure of American democracy, it thrillingly brings to life two characters who, born on different sides of history, come together to share an extraordinary relationship. Olivier is a French aristocrat, sent to the New World ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to save his neck in a future revolution. Parrot is the son of an itinerant English printer, sent to spy and protect him. With the narrative shifting between the perspectives of master and servant, we see the adventure of American democracy, in theory and in practice, told with Carey’s dazzling wit and inventiveness.
Peter Carey was born in Australia in May 1943 and is the author of six novels. He won the Booker Prize in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda (which has since been made into a film starring Ralph Fiennes) and was shortlisted in 1985 with Illywhacker. His other novels include The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs (winner of the 1998 Commonwealth Writers Prize). He has also written a collection of short stories, The Fat Man in History, and a book for children, The Big Bazoohley. Peter Carey won The Man Booker Prize for the second time in 2001 with True History of the Kelly Gang and was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 and 2009.
***** (Average rating: 4 stars)
"...his recent run of books has been astonishing. Now Parrot and Olivier in America, a comic adventure that functions with equal brilliance as a novel of ideas, can be added to a hit parade of extraordinary sharpness and vigour... Carey has access to both high-flown and vernacular language, and the new novel routinely achieves a kind of battered Shakespearean splendour." - Leo Robson, The New Statesman
"While enjoying Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America, I found myself wondering from time to time what it was about. I finished it with unabated enjoyment, still wondering… Are there hidden significances? I don't know. It's a dazzling, entertaining novel. Should one ask for more?" - Ursula K Le Guin, The Guardian
Read an extract from the book on the New York Times website.