I felt it was an omission on my part not to have read any of the previous novels of Peter Carey, twice winner of the Booker prize, so I was intrigued enough to start his latest Booker shortlisted book ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’. It is the story of two central 19th century characters, Olivier de Garmont, a young French aristocrat who needs to escape from post revolutionary France; and Parrot who is an older working class Englishman with republican leanings.
They are thrown together in an odd sort of way by Olivier’s mother, who wants her son kept an eye on as he travels to America. She makes Parrot a co-signatory of his bank account, which makes for a distinctly unusual master-servant relationship. Some of the differences that Olivier finds when he gets to American are amusingly told, such as the very flexible attitude to class, and the belief that all people can make their way up in the world with no limit put on their success by class.
Carey tells the tale through the words of both men in alternate chapters, which I found slightly confusing and leads to a lack of focus. I am sorry to say that I didn’t have much sympathy for either of them as they get in and out of various escapades and scrapes. It is undoubtedly a clever novel, with Olivier’s character being loosely based on the French scholar of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville. I get the feeling that it is trying to be too clever for its own good, and somewhat looses grip on plot and storyline in the process. So not an impressive introduction for me to the work of Peter Carey.