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This is a great book to turn to when you feel as if no-one is telling original stories anymore. It will remind you that great writers can recognize compelling stories (with compelling characters, situations, dialogue) everywhere. The narrator is absolutely brilliant as well, and he makes the characters live - especially impressive given that the two main characters could not be more different.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
I've never read the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, the 18th century French writer upon whom Carey based the character Olivier, so I can't really comment on this book from that angle. It seems, though, that Carey didn't intend to retread an already-written account of a young nation, but to write a character study. Thus we get Olivier, a haughty, melancholy young French aristocrat still haunted by the ghosts of his country's revolution, and his counterpoint, Parrot, a hard-traveled Englishman who acts as Olivier's not-entirely-willing manservant.
Both are outsiders to America, seeing different things in it. For Olivier, it's a barbaric, uncultured society, driven mainly by a desire for profit. "What if they blindly follow what their newspapers tell them and elect some rube for President?" he asks. Parrot is somewhat more optimistic, seeing the chance for a fresh beginning for himself. The question for the modern reader is, of course, implicit. Will this be a country whose glory blossoms briefly, then ends in George W. Bush and worse? Or are we idealizing an imperfect past and failing to see that America remains a place of opportunity, in spite of its many faults? Carey leaves this question to us.
In terms of writing and voice, Parrot and Olivier is an impeccable novel. I really enjoyed the historical flavor, and can't fault Carey for research and style. A section in which the two men, who don't like each very much, must endure close quarters while crossing the Atlantic, getting to know their new American neighbors in the process, is quite witty. However, the book overall didn't quite live up to my hopes. Carey spends a lot of time defining his characters' separate lives and histories without doing that much with them. I felt like the novel spent so many pages on trips back to the old world, which aren't that crucial to the plot, that it didn't say enough about the new world, or give the two men enough time together.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful