Parrot and Olivier in America – Peter Carey

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Long listed for 2010 Booker Prize

I enjoyed reading some sections of Oscar and Lucinda (and remember it more fondly than my reviews implies – I have forgotten about that dull bit now!) so I was looking forward to reading Parrot and Olivier in America. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with this book and failed to make it to the end.

Parrot and Olivier in America is set in the early 19th Century and follows an unlikely pair of characters: Olivier, a young French aristocrat, and Parrot, an orphaned printer’s apprentice who becomes Olivier’s servant. The pair leave France after the revolution and head for a new life in America.

It sounds like a fantastic plot and it takes places during a fascinating period of history, but unfortunately all the interesting facts were buried under a mountain of flowery prose. Everything was described in excessive detail which meant that the pace was very slow.

I had never set eyes on a silkworm and I dare say young Watkins was in no way like one. Yet it is a silkworm that I think of when I recall him in 1793, a poor pale secret thing at the service of a Chinese emperor, sitting on his heels before his press, playing it like a dice box, and with all the papery essentials within reach of his long arms.

I admired individual paragraphs, but quickly became bored with the book. The effort required to follow the meandering plot was too great and I gave up after about 200 pages.

I was quite disappointed as I had wanted to complete the Booker long list this year, but I found it increasingly hard to concentrate on the words of this book. I kept finding my mind wandering from the page and realised there was no way I’d be able to make it through another 250 pages without any engagement in the characters or plot.

Recommended to those who don’t need a strong plot and enjoy getting lost in historical detail.


Most reviews seem vaguely positive, but I have seen a lot of comments from people unable to complete it.

 …a delightful excursion into an unreal past that says a lot about our precarious present. The Mookse and the Gripes

It’s no Oscar and Lucinda, of course, but it’s still pretty good. Vulpes Libris

Did you enjoy Parrot and Olivier?

Did anything exciting happen in the second half of the book? 


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  1. Meghan says:

    I have Oscar and Lucinda, but I’m not sure I’ll bother with this one. Just not in the mood for a slow, flowery book right now. If I ever am, I’ll probably remember it then.

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, I think Oscar and Lucinda is worth a read – it is growing on me over time. You might as well start with it since you already have a copy :-)

  2. Amy says:

    Too bad this didn’t work for you, doesn’t sound like my kind of book either unfortunately!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, He seems to write very different books – I’m sure that you’ll enjoy some of his other ones.

  3. Too bad this one wasn’t interesting — I don’t mind a slow book sometimes, but I need it to have substance!

    1. Jackie says:

      Natalie, I’m not normally a fan of slow books, but slow and meandering is too much for me :-(

  4. LizF says:

    I got this from the library when it had just come out but didn’t make much headway with it for the same reason you state – a lot of words but not much happens.
    I thought that maybe I had done it a disservice because I had tried to read it quickly (there was a long list of requests and it couldn’t be renewed) and had half thought about waiting until later and getting it out again, but having read your post I am not sure that I am going to bother any time soon!

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, Don’t take my word for it – I’m not a big fan of slow books, so if you are in the right mood please give it another try. Some people must have loved it for it to end up on the Booker long list!

  5. Steph says:

    Carey is one of those authors I keep meaning to read but haven’t yet… I have several of his books now, but haven’t made the time for any of them yet. The whole conceit behind this one doesn’t really do much for me since I’m not really a huge historical fiction fan… I think I’ll try some of his other stuff first!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I am a historical fiction fan and it didn’t do anything for me, so I think you’re wise to try something else first I hope you enjoy your first Carey :-)

  6. Shannon says:

    This one is waiting for me at the library. Like you, I’m trying to get through the Booker list which is why I requested it. Good to know it will take me a long time to get through, I’ll have to make sure I can read as many of the books I currently have out of the library in the next, so when I pick this one up next week I have lots of time to spend with it.

    In what you did read, did you see any reason why it would have made the long list?

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, On a sentence-by-sentence level this book is very well written. I’m sure it has a deeper meaning if you read it multiple times, but I don’t enjoy that studying aspect of reading – I like to become immersed in a story, not feel as if I’m back at school. I think this book might do well with the Booker this year – it does have a very literary feel to it.

  7. I’m sorry this didn’t work for you, Jackie and that you had to give up on it. I haven’t read any Carey yet but just picked this one up from the library so we shall see how I fare with it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I hope that you have better luck with it than me :-)

  8. cbjames says:

    I’ve tried several Carey books over the years and always ended up abandoning them. They always sound so intrigueing and typically get very good reviews. I think he’s a writer book critics love much more than actual readers.

    I also think he’s one of those people who are required by law to be nominated for awards based on past success.

    1. Jackie says:

      cbjames, The critics do seem to love him – all the newspaper reviews I found were glowing, which is why I love blogging – things are far more balanced :-)

      Oscar and Lucinda was much more accessible than Parrot and Olivier and I have heard that some of his other books are wonderful. I am going to keep trying his books. I’m sure I’ll enjoy one sooner or later :-)

  9. Laura says:

    Jackie, I’ve been really uncertain about this book. I enjoyed True History of the Kelly Gang and more or less liked Oscar and Lucinda although it had its ups and downs. I’m closely watching blogger reviews to decide whether this one is worth my time.

    Hope your next read is more enjoyable!

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, I agree that Oscar and Lucinda had its ups and downs. I’m hoping that I’ll enjoy The Kelly Gang much more. I think you’ll enjoy Parrot and Olivier much more than I did, but I don’t think you’ll be raving about it. I could be wrong though ;-)

  10. Sandy says:

    Girl you have got a long list of things to get through, so if you were bored, I don’t blame you a bit.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Exactly! It would have taken me days to finish this book. Time which is better spent on a book I’m more likely to enjoy :-)

  11. Robert Burns says:

    OMGosh Jackie, I started this a few days ago and am only 170 pages in. I had been thinking the past few days about how difficult it was to get into and just today while I was on the ferry I started thinking to myself ‘Geez, I really want to stop reading this, but it’s a Man Booker long list book. Am I allowed to stop?’ I somehow think I would appall my own senses if I did. Reading your review has got me thinking about it again right now and I think I’m not going to give up on it quite yet; I am still not convinced that in another 150 pages it won’t turn into the best book I’ve ever read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Robert Burns, I’m looking forward to discovering if this is the best book you’ve ever read. I never used to give up on books, but I never found that it was worth my time ploughing on to the end. I think after 200 pages I have a good idea of whether I’ll enjoy the book. I look forward to hearing your final thoughts on this one. I hope it is worth your while finishing it :-)

  12. JoV says:

    Oh dear, sorry that you didn’t like it. I know one Aussie blogger who simply can’t stand him and I’m wondering why he won Booker Prize twice and this one got longlisted this year if so many people think that he is difficult to read.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, I think a lot of people struggle to read his books. I thought he deserved to win for Oscar and Lucinda, but hope he doesn’t get the hat trick this year.

  13. Tony says:

    Read ‘O & L’ recently, and I quite liked it, but ‘His Illegal Self’ was not as good. Colleen of Bookphilia keeps urging me to read ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’ though!

    I get the feeling that Carey is a very up-and-down and/or polarising writer, so I’m not sure if I’ll give this one a go.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tony, I’ll probably read the Kelly Gang next as I’m working my way through the Booker list. I have heard such mixed reports on it that I have no idea how I’ll find it. He really does seem to divide opinion.

  14. Stujallen says:

    oh ,well not sure what say Jackie not read this but carey is one of my favourite writer history of kelly gang and ilywhacker two of my favs by him not got this one yet so not what it is like ,it does seem a slight change in style for carey ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, It is interesting to know he is one of your favourite authors. I hope I enjoy Kelly Gang and Ilywhacker as much as you.

  15. Karen says:

    I’m really sorry you couldn’t get into this one Jackie. I had to read O&L for uni studies a few years ago and couldn’t stand it at all but I actually really enjoyed this one! Sounds like I am definitely in the minority! It is actually the type of book that would normally completely annoy me but for some reason I just really connected with the story.

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, Sounds as though we have opposite taste in Carey books :-)

  16. I’m really thinking of breaking this one up into 50-page increments while reading others to get through it. I read the first paragraph, knew I wasn’t in the mood, and I haven’t picked it up since. I do want to read it, but at this point, I’m a little frightened of how I’ll react to it. I have heard a few people who loved it on audio, but I’m not much of an audio fan.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, I tried to do that, but I found that whenever I tried to pick up this one I lost interest. I can’t imagine it being any easier on audio, but perhaps the reader is amazing. If it wins the Booker then I’ll give the audio version a try!

  17. Kinna says:

    What a pity! Seems he’s one of those writers that tend to polarised readers. haven’t read anything of his. Might remedy that in the far, far future!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kinna, I hope that you enjoy your first Carey. :-)

  18. Alyce says:

    It seems like the more prestigious the award a book is nominated for, the more likely it is to be filled with sleep-inducing prose and/or depressing plot elements. Of course I’m just generalizing – there are quite a few award winners out there that I love and are deserving of their nominations and awards, but for the others it does seem to be a trend.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, That does seem to be the case with the majority of the Booker long list this year. I wish more happier books would get through. :-(

  19. Tricia says:

    I have to admit when I heard Carey made the longlist I already felt reluctant to read this one. I read Oscar and Lucinda and remember not really enjoying it…but I’ll still give this a try!

    1. Jackie says:

      Tricia, I hope that you have more luck than I did. I look forward to your review.

  20. diane says:

    I actually had the audio book of this one from the library, but had a strong feeling it would not be for me, so I returned it without listening to it.

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, I think that might have been a wise choice ;-)

  21. Jenners says:

    Hey … at least you tried. And I think it is amazing that you are trying to read all these Booker Prize books anyway.

  22. I’ve heard too many negative reviews of this one to try it now. When I first heard of it, it was in a positive context, but eventually the bad feedback caused me to kick it off my to-read list.

  23. I like books with historic detail + a strong plot (duh!), but I just know I’m going to give this one a miss. I didn’t enjoy the one Carey book (My Life As A Fake) that I’ve read – I forced myself to finish it.

    For purely selfish reasons, I hope this doesn’t make the shortlist (or win the Booker!), but now that I’ve said that, it’s probably going to happen.


  1. August Summary and Plans for September – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. Which Books Will Make it onto the 2010 Booker Short List? – Farm Lane Books Blog
  3. The 2010 Man Booker Short List – Farm Lane Books Blog
  4. Who will win the 2010 Booker Prize? – Farm Lane Books Blog

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