Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey

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Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey Hamish Hamilton (Australia), 2009, Knopf/Doubleday (US), 2010, Faber & Faber (UK), 2010

In a witty and highly entertaining take on the nature of democracy, status and social acceptance, Australian author Carey places two opposing characters on a ship sailing to the new American colonies in the late 18th century; the refined but wimpish French aristocrat “Olivier de Garmont”, and his servant, the common but tough English engraver John “Parrot” Larrit. They make a new beginning in America, where nothing matters but freedom and money – or so they think. Ostensibly this is just an adventure yarn, but Carey weaves in serious criticism of American democracy. As Parrot writes in his final letter to Olivier:

“There is no tyranny in America, nor ever could be…The great ignoramus will not be elected. The illiterate will never rule.”

The book was on the shortlist of six books for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award. If you like his style, you might also enjoy his novel Amnesia.

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