I’d seen mentions of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey a few times last year, mostly related to it being nominated for a Booker Prize, which the author has won twice before. I finally got a hold of it at the library — it was surprisingly on the shelf, after having many holds placed on it — and found it to be an enjoyable book overall.
The book’s perspective switches between that of Parrot and Olivier, two men with have been on very different paths in life, but who find themselves thrown together on a voyage to America. Parrot, essentially orphaned as a child in England, has managed to travel to various parts of the world with a rogue Frenchman (often referred to as Monsieur), and has a talent for engraving. Olivier is a son of French nobles whose lives were very much affected by the Revolution, and yet still don’t care for the notion of democracy.
Olivier’s parents want to get Olivier away from growing problems in France, so he is sent to study and write about prisons in America, with Parrot as his servant/secretary. The book contrasts their perspectives on the things they counter on this trip, as well as the conflict between the two men.
I did like the changing perspective at first, to show how different Parrot and Olivier saw the world. I did lean towards Parrot’s side more and didn’t care as much for Olivier, who felt very strongly about classes and how a society should be.
However, some of the book was a bit jarring, like various flashbacks that would share something of the character’s past, but only in snippets. There were also a few instances where parts of the present jumped a bit, not fully explaining how something had happened.
Otherwise, I thought it was an interesting read, and the style and time period made me think of other books I enjoyed, like Heyday by Kurt Andersen or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.