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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Parrot and Olivier in America

Peter Carey

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase Parrot and Olivier in America

Title: Parrot and Olivier in America
Author: Peter Carey
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 386 pages
Availability: Parrot and Olivier in America - US
Parrot and Olivier in America - UK
Parrot and Olivier in America - Canada
Parrot and Olivier in America - India
Parrot et Olivier en Amérique - France
Parrot und Olivier in Amerika - Deutschland
Parrot e Olivier in America - Italia
Parrot y Olivier en América - España

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Don't have a copy; tempted, but feels like something that can be put off for a while

Chances that we will review it:

It's possible, but it'll be a while

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 31/10/2009 Jennifer Byrne
The Australian . 31/10/2009 James Bradley
Bookforum . 4-5/2010 Sarah Courteau
Boston Globe . 25/4/2010 Richard Eder
Financial Times . 1/2/2010 Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
The Guardian A 30/1/2010 Ursula K. Le Guin
The Independent B 12/2/2010 Andrew Taylor
Independent on Sunday A- 14/2/2010 Robert Epstein
The LA Times . 26/4/2010 Susan Salter Reynolds
New Statesman . 18/2/2010 Leo Robson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/4/2010 Thomas Mallon
The Observer . 14/2/2010 Thomas Jones
Salon . 11/4/2010 Laura Miller
The Spectator B- 27/1/2010 Hugh Brogan
Sunday Times . 24/1/2010 Peter Kemp
Sydney Morning Herald A 11/11/2009 Andrew Riemer
The Telegraph . 25/1/2010 John Preston
The Telegraph . 13/2/2010 Lucy Daniel
The Times B 23/1/2010 Russell Celyn Jones
TLS . 27/1/2010 Tom Shippey
The Washington Post . 28/4/2010 Ron Charles

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed by the writing, but most have some reservations about the story itself (and the many pieces it comes in)

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's the story of a long and improbable friendship, a romance, and a cracking adventure. A study of class and a sharp argument about democracy. A tragi-comic tale of how losers can become winners, and winners can blow their chances. (...) While Parrot and Olivier has the sweep and loveable rogue count to warrant the description picaresque -- how tired Carey must get of that adjective -- there's more than rollicking going on here. At one level, it is his love letter to America, reminding those of us who find the modern empire hard to swallow of the boldness of the original experiment, its drive for change and rebirth." - Jennifer Byrne, The Age

  • "Perhaps ironically, many of the book's best moments lie in the early sections, before Parrot and Olivier's departure for America. (...) Carey's fiction repeatedly evinces a profound ambivalence about the self-deceptions of colonial culture, about the dishonesty at its core, and its celebration of its mediocrities as virtues. Whether de Tocqueville may have seen something of the same quality in Australian culture is a moot point. But it is not difficult to see how his simultaneously celebratory and cautionary account of American democracy might mesh with Carey's thinking about such questions." - James Bradley, The Australian

  • "The richest pleasure of Parrot and Olivier in America is the clever and seamless way that Carey manages to illuminate the themes that preoccupied Tocqueville: the differences between New World and Old, the rule of the mob, the role of Protestantism, Americans' obsession with commerce, even the effect of democracy on the theater." - Sarah Courteau, Bookforum

  • "There are a great many more permutations, twists, and characters in the novel; so many, indeed, as to display the occasional weakness of Carey’s strengths: a virtuosity overload and a piling-on of incident. The excess here, along with a certain pat melodrama, may be a kind of compensation." - Richard Eder, Boston Globe

  • "(I)t is the most sustained and enjoyable attempt yet by Australia’s leading living novelist to write about his adopted American homeland." - Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

  • "So, exactly as its title promises, the book is about Parrot and Olivier in America; but it's not about America. (...) The narrative proceeds in leaps and bounds, sometimes with a hop backwards, omitting connections, giving an impression above all, perhaps, of confusion -- confusion of event and motive, incomprehension, a vast drama without structure. The language is vivid, forceful and poetic (.....) Are there hidden significances? I don't know. It's a dazzling, entertaining novel. Should one ask for more?" - Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian

  • "Carey's novel builds a picture of America, his own adopted homeland, seen through a glass darkly from a fictional version of the 1830s. Its mainspring is the dialogue that develops between Parrot and Olivier. Parrot is pragmatic, a natural republican, and resourceful. Olivier, a faintly ridiculous child of the ancien regime (.....) That said, the novel leaves behind a sense of unfinished business. The whole is rather less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps there's a little too much concept here." - Andrew Taylor, The Independent

  • "But this conclusion in no way dampens this dashing novel -- for it is in the testing of assumptions, in Garmont and Parrot's challenging of each other, that its beauty and intelligence lies." - Robert Epstein, Independent on Sunday

  • "Carey braids his story carefully, lovingly. It has all his telltale favorite elements -- lawlessness, revolution, hope for the future, men driven by passion. At its heart, Parrot & Olivier in America is a western; the simplest story in history, sculpted down to a twinkle in a philosopher's eye: Man's search for freedom." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The visible manifestation of historical processes acts as a loose organising principle for the book's countless details. (...) Naturally, the most expressive recorder of history is language. Carey has access to both high-flown and vernacular language, and the new novel routinely achieves a kind of battered Shakespearean splendour." - Leo Robson, New Statesman

  • "Like most of Carey’s inventive, maximalist entertainments, Parrot and Olivier is replete with expressed feeling, if too wittily contrived for actual passion. The story is told in the alternating voices of its two main characters, and it’s hard to say where the emotional focus finally lies. (...) The local units of invention rarely disappoint, but if Tocqueville were to survey the book’s overall imaginative structure, he might recommend a stronger sort of federalism to the enormous literary talent presiding here." - Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "By Carey's standards, this is a remarkably mellow book; he used to treat his characters far more ruthlessly." - Thomas Jones, The Observer

  • "The debate between Olivier and Parrot is insoluble, but then fiction isn't in the business of offering solutions; its mission is to coax us into feeling the breadth and depth of the question as it's asked by human beings every day of their lives. Can Olivier (absurd yet endearing) survive in America, and can Parrot (embittered yet softening) thrive anywhere else? The trick of a great novel like this one lies in convincing you that you can't bear to part with either one." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "Carey has, I think, unduly stinted on the blood-and-thunder. His intellectualism is the reason. He is really anxious to contribute to the debate on Tocquevillian themes, above all the viability of American democracy. (...) In short, he falls between several stools. Nor does the brilliance of his writing entirely compensate for his plot, the incidents of which are too contrived to be believable." - Hugh Brogan, The Spectator

  • "Peter Carey’s new novel is wide-roving even by his standards. (...) At the novel’s core is a smaller-scale experiment in democracy: the growth, against the odds, of esteem and affection between two men from drastically different backgrounds. (...) The lively to and fro between this master and servant who mature into equals, provides a running commentary on the pros and cons of democracy." - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "Parrot and Olivier in America is a tour de force, a wonderfully dizzying succession of adventures and vivid, at times caricatured, characters executed with great panache. Telling this intricate story is shared by Olivier and Parrot in alternate chapters, a clumsy device in some hands but highly successful in Carey's." - Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "All this may make Parrot and Olivier in America sound a little dry, a little theoretical. In fact, there are scenes here as dramatic and as poignant as any Carey has ever written. (...) Like Carey’s 2001 Man Booker Prize-winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, Parrot and Olivier in America has an epic historical sweep to it. Yet for all the novel’s virtues, the book can’t muster the same emotional impact as its predecessor. In part, this is due to the nature of the story. However, there are other factors, too." - John Preston, The Telegraph

  • "Carey’s refusal to simplify is admirable, and if that entails a certain amount of puzzlement, it also offers a great deal of pleasure." - Lucy Daniel, The Telegraph

  • "This interdependency between art and craft is apparent in the way that Carey writes. His democratic instinct allows him to give equal weight to all his characters and to the cultures of proletarian England, aristocratic France and America at the moment of its invention. It is a book full of the love for work: book printing and engraving, writing and painting, as well as actual love affairs. The omniscient style is now pretty much systemic with Carey, but for my taste the lofty narrative lacks intimacy at times (.....) Olivier and Parrot is most strikingly beautiful at its most elemental." - Russell Celyn Jones, The Times

  • "Parrot and Olivier in America has the feel of a roman à clef where the keys don’t quite fit. (...) This is a puzzling novel, in the end as at the start. It has a number of loose ends." - Tom Shippey, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The nervous thrill of being critiqued by an outsider has lost none of its charge, and that's at the heart of the fun these pages provide. (...) But readers should be forewarned: Parrot & Olivier starts poorly, particularly for a novel by Peter Carey, who usually sells his work hard in the opening chapters. We don't even reach America for well over 100 pages, and while the section on Parrot's childhood in England as a printer's devil contains the book's most inflammable scenes, Olivier's early, whiny section in France is tedious. Although Parrot's voice resonates with all the raw, visceral poetry of Carey's best protagonists, in general this is not the propulsive novelist we know." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Parrot and Olivier in America: Reviews: Peter Carey: Other books by Peter Carey under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Australian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Australian author Peter Carey was born in 1943. He has won the Booker Prize, the Miles Franklin Award, and the Commonwealth Prize.

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© 2010-2012 the complete review

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