Parrot and Olivier in America – Peter Carey – Book Review (Sort of)

Parrot and Olivier in America – Peter Carey, copyright 2010.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Pages: 592 (Paperback)

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2010

What to say, what to say. I didn’t enjoy this book. I shouldn’t be surprised, however, as I have rarely had success with any works associated with the Man Booker. Parrot and Olivier in America has, of course, been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year. The shortlist is slated to be announced on September 7th and I think I will faint if Peter Carey’s name is included. At the time the longlist was announced, this was the only associated title I had in my hands. Thankfully I now have Room by Emma Donoghue, so at least I can hope and pray that it will be on the shortlist so I won’t feel completely ripped-off this year. And now, before I continue, I must inform you that I did not finish Parrot and Olivier in America. I tried really hard, but after 432 pages, my heart would allow me to venture no further.

From the blurb on the back:

“Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatised child of the survivors of the Revolution; Parrot, an Englishman who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Through their picaresque travels in the New World – in love and politics, prisons and the world of art – Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy with dazzling wit and inventiveness.”

The connections this book has to Alexis de Tocqueville had me very excited going into it. I studied Tocqueville in university and found him to be the most exciting subject in my political theory class (This is an appropriate spot to laugh, if you wondering) Tocqueville, for those of you unfamiliar, was a French aristocrat who ventured to the United States towards the end of the French Revolution to write a review of the American prison system and ended up writing Democracy in America, a preeminent text in the fields of political theory and economic sociology. The work outlined why democracy had succeeded so swimmingly well in America, but had been such a terrific failure other places, especially in France.

I had hoped to learn something new in Carey’s story, but instead I ended up having to use toothpicks to keep my eyes open. While the prose are quite beautiful in some spots, they detract from the story throughout the entire story. The book has been hailed, according to the praise scattered over the face of it, for its humour and wit, but even the funny bits were lost to the prose. Instead of laughing, I found myself begging for it to be over. Funny enough, I did end up thinking to myself somewhere along the way that I really would like to learn more about this period in American history and should read more fiction set between Independence and the Civil War.

If you have a strong stomach for very artistic prose and aren’t adverse to a meandering plot then this book may well be for you. As for myself, I highly suspect this will put me off Peter Carey, if not forever, then, at the very least, for a lengthy period of time.

I was not up to the challenge of finishing this novel; so, in accordance with my review policy, this book will receive no rating.



About Robbie

Hi there, my name is Robbie Burns (no,really, that’s my name…hold the haggis jokes please) and I would like to welcome you to the Pink Sheep Cafe. I started this blog as a means of discussing books and all things literary in light of my perpetual isolation. At the time I began writing, I was living in Split, Croatia. There wasn’t much here in the way of English book clubs and I couldn’t work, so I badly needed something to help me bide my time. My partner and I have since left Croatia and returned to Canada to live in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. When we first moved back here, my blog writing sort of fell by the wayside, but now I seem to be back on track. I try to read and review a little bit of everything here; I think everyone can find something to their liking here. I find myself tending more towards more literary reads these days, but I also enjoy a lot of YA and children’s fiction. One of my ongoing goals is to work my way through all of the Nobel Laureates. My two most favorite authors are Timothy Findley and Halldor Laxness.
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3 Responses to Parrot and Olivier in America – Peter Carey – Book Review (Sort of)

  1. LOL! I was worried that you might say the ending was fantastic and I’d have to go and get a copy from the library again 🙂 I’m so pleased that I gave up on this book early on and didn’t battle with the text any longer than I had to!

  2. Shan says:

    I battled through to the end, in a way wish I hadn’t but I was hoping it would redeem itself. It got better, but not enough.

  3. Pingback: W…W…W…Wednesdays – September 8, 2010. | Pink Sheep Cafe

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