Friday, August 13, 2010

Blogging the Booker 4: Parrot and Olivier in America

Parrot and Olivier in America is Peter Carey's eleventh novel, and the eleventh of his I've read. So, yes, I'm a fan*. But it's a curious sort of fandom, in that I always buy his books when they're new, read them & usually enjoy them, but wouldn't instantly think of Carey as one of my favourite authors or anything. A couple of his novels I've not particularly cared for, and several others I've loved. Yet I'm always happy to see him release a new book every few years...

Anyway, Parrot & Olivier... came out ages ago in Australia (October or November last year, if memory serves). And while that might not sound that long ago in the grand scheme of things, it makes it slightly harder to review than The Slap, which I finished reading a couple of hours before I wrote that review.

To begin with the basics: the titular characters are, respectively, a middle-aged servant/general lackey and an aristocratic young Frenchmen. Set during the period of the French Revolution, Olivier is sent by his family to the US to avoid the grisly fate of aristocrats during revolutionary times. They send the family servant, Parrot (who is English, by the way) to accompany him.

Once in America, the pair encounter all that the New World has to offer. There's a love triangle, of sorts, and a whole cast of amusing characters. This is definitely Carey in picaresque mode, with a significant component of Alexis de Tocqueville thrown in for fun.

After the somewhat disappointing His Illegal Self, Parrot & Olivier... is a return to form for Carey. Like with several others of his best (in my opinion) latter-day books - Theft, True History of the Kelly Gang - Carey is at his best with larger-than-life characters and subversions of literary genres (although I thought his Frankenstein-meets-Ern-Malley book, My Life as a Fake, slightly underwhelming for its wonderful premise - but perhaps a re-reading is in order).

I realise I've started with the two books by Australian authors on this year's longlist, but that's mostly unintentional (& has a lot to do with availability). Parrot & Olivier... is of course not an 'Australian' book as such - certainly not in the way The Slap is -, and Carey is one of a small group to win the Booker Prize twice (for Oscar & Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang). That said, I'd be surprised if this book was the one that allowed him to become the first to win it three times. It's another solid outing from one of the most respected literary authors of our era, but probably isn't exciting enough to win him the Booker. (Not that recent winners have been all that exciting, but they've all been first-time winners. If you've already won a few times, I suspect you have to do more to win again than you would if your previous winners had been shortlisted but not winners.)

And it matters less with Carey anyway. I'm sure he'd be chuffed to win again, and I sure wouldn't be upset or anything, but this book is going to sell well enough either way, and his reputation is assured. In recent years, while I've not liked the winners of the Booker all that much, it's been good to get to know some new (to me) authors via long/short lists.

Speaking of which: next will be either David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or Paul Murray's Skippy Dies, depending on when I finish the latter.

* Not that numbers always tell the whole story: I have, for instance, read 60% of Stephenie Meyer's published novels; considerably more than some authors whom I actually don't hate.

No comments:

Post a Comment