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Library Journal Review
Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Garmont is French nobility, son of survivors of the French Revolution. Olivier has had every privilege and is acutely aware of his relative social position. Imagine his surprise and discomfort when he is banished, for his own safety, to newly emerging democratic America. Son of an itinerant English printer, with a colorful and varied past, Parrot proves an unlikely companion. Parrot is sent to accompany Olivier as his servant and secretary, with the secret mission of reporting Olivier's activities back to his mother in France. The story alternates between Parrot and Olivier, who narrate from their widely different points of view. Featuring well-developed and multifaceted characters (the novel was inspired by the life of Alexis de Tocqueville), this book is rife with humorous details and turns of phrase, and the language is sophisticated (readers might want to have a dictionary handy). Verdict Written by a two-time Booker Prize winner, this engaging book will be particularly appreciated by readers interested in early 19th-century American history, the French aristocracy, and emerging democracy. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/09.]-Sarah Conrad Weisman, Corning Community Coll. Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
The eminently talented Carey (Theft) has the gift of engaging ventriloquism, and having already channeled the voices of Dickens's Jack Maggs and the Australian folk hero/master thief Ned Kelly, he now inhabits Olivier-Jean-Baptist de Clarel de Barfleur, a fictionalized version of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose noble parents are aghast at his involvement in the events surrounding Napoleon's return and the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. To remove him from danger, they send him to America, where priggish snob Olivier inspires Carey's humor during his self-centered adventures in New York, New England, and Philadelphia. Olivier can't shake his aristocratic disdain of raw-mannered, money-obsessed Americans-until he falls for a Connecticut beauty. More lovable is Parrot, aka John Larrit, who survives Australia's penal colony only to be pressed into traveling with Olivier as servant and secret spy for Olivier's mother. Though their relationship begins in mutual hatred, it evolves into affectionate comradeship as they experience the alien social and cultural milieus of the New World. Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
*Starred Review* Two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey's transfixing novels are at once sharply funny and profoundly resonant. They are shaped by his sharp insight into the conflict between an individual's will and circumstances, hence his fascination with historical figures. In his latest imaginative and commanding tale, Carey presents a brilliant and sly variation on the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the indelible Democracy in America. High-strung, smart, and snobbish, Olivier is sent to America by his parents, who barely avoided the guillotine during the French Revolution, to escape the reignited Terror. A long-suffering Englishman called Parrot, the orphaned son of a printer, is charged with protecting Olivier (whom he dubs Lord Migraine ), but he has other concerns, especially an intrepid painter named Mathilde. A master of the dual narrative, Carey has fastidious yet observant Olivier (his take on Americans and rocking chairs is priceless) and shrewd and articulate Parrot take turns telling their astonishing stories in a picaresque adventure spiked with revelations personal and societal. Echoes of Tocqueville's masterpiece are matched by intimations of Mark Twain, while Parrot mirrors James John Audubon. Remarkably fluent in history, Carey is not beholden to his sources but, rather, empowered to create a thrillingly fresh and incisive drama of extraordinary personalities set during a time of world-altering vision and action.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
A New World historical novel from Carey, the two-time Australian-born winner of the Man Booker prize. We start in the Old World. When the nobleman Olivier de Garmont is born in 1805, post-revolutionary France is still volatile. Olivier lost a grandfather to the guillotine. His parents remain in exile until the Bourbon Restoration. Olivier's liberal sentiments endanger him during the next revolution (July 1830), and his ultra-royalist mother decides he should be sent out of harm's way, to America. She acts through her confidant, the one-armed Marquis de Tilbot, and his middle-aged servant, known as Parrot, a most undeferential Englishman. Parrot's story: As a boy in England, he was rescued by de Tilbot after his father's wrongful arrest for forging banknotes, sent to Australia where he married and had a child, then was plucked away again by the Marquis. (All this dribbles out in flashbacks.) Olivier is drugged and put aboard a vessel to New York, together with Parrot. Now the nobleman has transplantation in common with his thrice-uprooted new servant. His cover story in America will be that he is investigating their prison system, as did another French nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville, the inspiration for this novel. Carey's nobleman is a playful distortion of de Tocqueville, for Olivier is a nincompoop, myopic both literally and figuratively, with zero interest in prisons and slow to realize the resourcefulness of his savvy Parrot. Carey exploits this comic material only fitfully, though he cooks up some adventures for the odd couple and a romance for Olivier, who falls for the daughter of a Connecticut landowner ("I had arrived, quite unexpectedly, in Paradise.") Their starry-eyed courtship distracts attention from a more interesting development: the budding friendship between the principals ("in a democracyboth parties know that the servant may at any moment become the master"). Quirky and erudite, but the payoff in human-interest terms is meager. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.