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Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Parrot and Olivier in AmericaBefore you read my review of Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, I might as well hold up my hands and admit that I am probably not the most impartial reviewer. I’ve loved Carey’s writing for years, to the extent that he is probably my favourite living author.

Some of his novels have certainly fallen short of the very high standards he set himself with Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang, but there is something about his style that always keeps me coming back for more even after some of his less than brilliant work.

Parrot and Olivier in America, I had high hopes for as it achieved a place on the 2010 Man Booker Shortlist, and it finally came to the top of my reading list last month. So did it live up to my expectations?

Read on for a full review…

-- Parrot and Olivier in America a Review by Des Greene --

Parrot and Olivier in America is a rather epic adventure which follows the lives of two central characters from widely differing backgrounds. John Larrit, nicknamed Parrot by his father for his skills as a mimic, is an Englishman from a poor background who is left to make his way through life as best he can when events transpire to leave him fending for himself at a tender age. Olivier on the other hand, is a Frenchman of aristocratic parentage; however this does not as you might expect, result in him living the easy life of a rich young nobleman. This is due in no small part to the incredible bad timing of his being born into the chaos and upheaval of the French revolution.

The underlying theme of the novel asks the question of whether democracy and republicanism has led to a steady and inevitable decline of art and culture over the course of the last couple of centuries; and it does make for a thought provoking read. But if that makes it sound rather heavy and dull, nothing could be further from the truth. Taken at face value, Parrot and Olivier is simply a compelling and easy reading story interwoven with a good deal of humour.

Most of that humour derives from some very barbed insults aimed at stereotypical national and cultural traits, which may sound a bit juvenile, but it certainly hit my funny bone. Besides, with English and French protagonists travelling in America, and staying at Irish run guest houses, the opportunities are many and probably too inviting for a mischievous Aussie author to resist. Added to that, the humour is further accentuated by Olivier’s character which is wonderfully pompous and arrogant like something out of Dickens or Trollope, and is nicely contrasted against the more practical and resourceful Parrot.

I suppose if you were being ultra-critical, you could say that the way in which the afore-mentioned theme is drawn to a conclusion suffers a little from from twenty-twenty hindsight and is delivered in a perhaps less than subtle fashion, but it was cleverly crafted nonetheless, and nicely wound the book up with something for the reader to ponder on.

In conclusion then, I found this an entertaining and amusing story which covers an awful lot of ground, it is populated by as colourful a menagerie of characters as I’ve come to expect of this author, and is delivered in a style which I personally don’t ever seem to tire of. Verdict? Peter Carey at his very best.

Already read Parrot and Olivier in America? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

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