Monday, January 17, 2011

Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey

This story of an unlikely almost-friendship is set during the time of the French Revolution and is loosely based on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville. Olivier is the son of French aristocrats who escaped the guillotine. Parrot, twice Olivier's age, is the son of an itinerant English printer. Olivier (like Tocqueville) was sent from France with a mission to study the American penal system. Parrot, who has already had many adventures in his life, is sent with Olivier to be his secretary. Parrot has also been instructed to spy on him.

The chapters alternate between the very different viewpoints of the two men, beginning with their childhoods. Olivier is a snob, yet well-intentioned. Parrot is as cheeky as his namesake and chafes at the yoke of servitude. From the start, they cannot stand each other, but a sort of understanding grows between them over time. Their larger-than-life adventures are recounted with verve and style.

Peter Carey is an Australian author who has twice won the Booker prize (Oscar and Lucinda; and The True History of the Kelly Gang). I listened to an audiobook read expertly by Humphrey Bower (Blackstone: 17.5 hours). Bower moves easily between the accents of the various characters, bringing their personalities to life. Carey's witty prose translates very well to audio.

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