> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 31 January 2011
  • ISBN: 9780143203520
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 468
  • RRP: $19.99

Parrot and Olivier in America

Parrot and Olivier in America is a dazzling comic masterpiece that reminds us why Peter Carey is Australia's most internationally acclaimed novelist.

Parrot and Olivier in America is a dazzling comic masterpiece that reminds us why Peter Carey is Australia's most internationally acclaimed novelist.

Olivier is a French aristocrat, the child of survivors of the revolution. Parrot, the son of an English printer, is a restless servant. When Olivier sets sail for the New World – ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to avoid another revolution – Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. They are an unlikely pair, but where better for unlikely things to flourish than in the glorious, brand-new democratic experiment, America? And who better than Carey to show what Americans do not always wish to see: that their earliest observers included some who foresaw disastrous consequences for that experiment, well before they became headlines around the world.

A dazzlingly inventive reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey, Parrot and Olivier in America brilliantly evokes the Old World colliding with the New. Above all, it is a wildly funny, tender portrait of two men who come to form an almost impossible friendship, and a completely improbable work of art.

'If envy is any writer's sincerest form of admiration, then I was sick with admiration on every page of this vigorous, lyrical masterpiece. The dramatic situations are struck off with hallucinatory force, the characters are coddled with tenderness and humor – and the distant past is made as present as a slap in the face. Peter Carey has long been one of the best writers in English; now he is even better.' Edmund White

'This is Peter Carey at his best: playful, extravagant … fully in control … a tour de force, a wonderfully dizzying succession of adventures … executed with great panache.' Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

'Once this novel grabs you, it holds you. Heart as well as brain. It's the story of a long and improbable friendship, a romance, and a cracking adventure. A study of class and a sharp argument about democracy. A tragicomic tale of how losers can become winners, and winners can blow their chances.' Jennifer Byrne, The Age

'A lavishly staged, densely textured, entirely beguiling adventure ... The story strolls, spreads and sprawls at the same time as Carey's language sparkles and glitters.' Mark Thomas, Canberra Times

'Carey is at the peak of his powers.' Bookseller & Publisher

'Anyone who as followed his work over the years knows that Peter Carey is a wily seducer, a mental acrobat who can bound across continents and centuries and make us believe in whatever world he has discovered and imagined. Parrot and Olivier transports us to the rough-and-tumble America of 1830, and it's possibly the most charming and engaging novel this demon of a storyteller has yet written. His prose has never been more buoyant, more vigorous, more musical. Open this book and listen to Peter Carey sing. ' Paul Auster

'Two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey's transfixing novels are at once sharply funny and profoundly resonant … In his latest imaginative and commanding tale, Carey presents a brilliant and sly variation on the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville … Remarkably fluent in history, Carey is … empowered to create a thrillingly fresh and incisive drama of extraordinary personalities set during a time of world-altering vision and action.' Donna Seaman, Booklist

'I have been reading with astonishment and envy Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America ... Carey is a writer I prize not only for his remarkable Dickensian plots but also for the brilliance of his style. He is a great mimic of very different voices. He has an admirable grasp of the period. He creates one memorable tableau after another, striking visual images that burn themselves into the cortex. He is the most exuberant stylist at work in English today.' Edmund White, Daily Telegraph

'Carey is a fabulous fabulist of epic intent … high-spirited and mischievous, provocative and wily … vastly entertaining … A picaresque opus of the magnum variety … This is a showcase novel of life and love and loss … an inventive tale of great exuberance.' Murray Waldren, Australian Book Review

'The characters are magnificent … Mystery, mayhem, women, wine and writing in the rambunctious world of the Americas. It is funny, tough and adventurous … and a tender portrayal of how two men from wildly different backgrounds can come to be friends.' Ian Nichols, West Australian

'A book to stand beside the quintessentially Australian Illywhacker.' Adelaide Advertiser

'Instantly compelling and with a bone-dry wit … The slow, subtle transformation of the deeply complicated relationship between master and servant is utterly bewitching. As indeed are all of the relationships of Carey's incredible cast of characters.' Helen Dargan, Courier Mail

'Marvellous … A grand, magisterial story, full of great characters and stories. Above all, it is one of his most important books.' Mark Rubbo, readings.com.au

'The achievement of Parrot and Olivier in America lies … in the mingling of hope and pain, loss and rebirth … Sing[s] with passion and fury.' James Bradley, Weekend Australian

'To fans of Carey's writing I say 'hurrah', for those who haven't read his work, you're missing out on some of the most masterful prose and finely crafted writing of our times. Carey is to Australian fiction what Orson Welles was to theatre.' Riverbend Book

'Springy, rangy, alert, fertile, combining without strain contemporary and period tones … And there is the restless inventiveness, and the humour.' Owen Richardson, Sunday Age

'The most sophisticated of his books to date, cosmopolitan and tonally impeccable.' Weekend Australian

'Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history.' Publishers Weekly

'Worth an early punt for the Booker 2010 shortlist.' Alex Bilmes, GQ

'Carey has already won two Bookers: this evocative and often very funny novel could well be another contender.' Sunday Times

'Peter Carey is a master literary ventriloquist … [He] offers us an exuberant work of fiction full of verve and vivid minor characters … A delightful comedy of manners … A rollercoaster journey across France, England and America ... never less than entertaining. Be prepared for a rollicking ride.' Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler

'A delightful and dazzling study of democracy.' Bookseller, UK

'A wonderful, witty and profound insight into what happens when a tired and deflated Old World collides with the rambunctious and expansive New … This is a complex yet readable novel, told by a master of the craft. Having twice won the Man Booker Prize, Carey is a strong contender for a third with Parrot and Oliver in America.' Alan Gold, Good Reading

'The guvnor of Australian literature has awesome technique … Engrossing' Lucy Sussex, Sunday Age

'Carey dazzles his readers with his literary powers … wakens all the senses.' Blanche Clark, Herald Sun

'A comedic and insightful journey to a new world … This is a big book about big ideas … a very funny book.' Sunday Tasmanian

'These are intricate, tragic characters, lively and memorable, quirky and stamped hard with a particular kind of individuality … There is much to enjoy here.' Michelle Thomas, South Coast Register

'Parrot and Olivier is so well written. Parrot's voice exults in a sort of demotic poetry.' Philip Hensher, The Monthly

'Carey does it again ... The story of an improbably friendship written with tenderness and great humour.' Philip Bray, Brays Books

'Irrepressibly funny ... all the richness and surprise of characterisation, story and language that we have come to expect from this superlative writer.' Pilbara News
'Examines the roots of class relations in America as told by the voices of an eighteenth-century DeTocqueville-like French aristocrat and his English servant. The chapters alternate between the two voices, and the contrast creates one of those comic masterpieces that seems effortless while making you realize that Carey writes some of the best sentences in English.' Tom Sleigh, The New Yorker

'Carey's prose seems to inhabit his characters, fleshing them out and opening up a world. The richness of narrative is Dickensian.' Hamish McDougall, GQ Australia

'A dazzlingly inventive and often wildly funny reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey in this very different latest novel by Peter Carey.' Pittwater Life

'A brilliantly written ripsnorter of a yarn.' Peter Murphy, Irish Times

'A wily and supremely confident storyteller on a grand scale … Within the covers is a complex discussion of the philosophy of democracy, and yet Olivier and Parrot is most strikingly beautiful at its most elemental.' Russell Celyn Jones, The Times

'There's nothing timid about Carey. You get the whole orchestra blowing the roof off … Wonderfully funny … One hell of a ride.' Sunday Telegraph

'His most expansive fictional journeying yet … Exhilarating tour de force.' Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

'The leading characters are beautifully drawn …The result is a gripping portrait of Jacksonian America in all its wild variety, from its model farms to its grungy boarding-houses, from its Fourth of July parades to its filthy streets full of copulating pigs. A wonderful tribute to Tocqueville's great book. But it is more than that: it is also a counterblast.' Daniel Pudles, The Economist

'I finished it with unabated enjoyment … A dazzling, entertaining novel.' Ursula K LeGuin, Guardian

'All Carey's traditional strengths are here in abundance: rich and meticulously researched detail, a soaring imagination, wonderfully inventive imagery and, most welcome of all, a caustic wit.' Tom Leonard, Telegraph

'Ranks among his best, on a par with Illywhacker, his darkly humorous early masterpiece, or True History of the Kelly Gang … A sprawling, energetic novel in the tradition of Don Quixote.' Jay Parini, Literary Review

'[A] marvel of a novel ... The richest pleasure of Parrot and Olivier in America is the clever and seamless way that Carey manages to illuminate ... the differences between New World and Old, the rule of the mob ... even the effect of democracy on the theater.' Sarah Corteau, Bookforum (US)

'Outrageous and witty … Another feat of acrobatic ventriloquism, joining Carey's masterpieces, Jack Maggs and True History of the Kelly Gang.' Ron Charles, Washington Post

'A brass-band burlesque of literature and history … Carey's writing remains matchlessly robust.' Thomas Mallon, New York Times Book Review

'Carey re-imagines Tocqueville's American journey with a verve that is nothing short of captivating … A rollicking debate about America and its opportunities.' Robin Vidimos, Denver Post

'A riot of unexpected plot twists and pleasures … An utter tour de force.' Ellen Kanner, Miami Herald

'Amusing and wise and graceful.' Laura Miller, salon.com

'One of those comic masterpieces that seems effortless while making you realize that Carey writes some of the best sentences in English.' Tom Sleigh, newyorker.com

'A delicious, sprockety contraption, a comic historical picaresque … An eighteenth-century robustness, a nineteenth-century lexicon, and a modern liberality. There are few contemporary writers with such a sure sense of narrative pungency and immediacy … [A] blooming Australian-New English-New American novel.' James Wood, The New Yorker

'Carey braids his story carefully, lovingly. It has all his telltale favorite elements – lawlessness, revolution, hope for the future, men driven by passion.' Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

'Carey is as various, often as brilliant, and always as irreverent as they come.' Richard Eder, Boston Globe

'An exuberant, entertaining, incisive novel, full of attitude and incident.' Robert Cremins, Dallas Morning News

'A wickedly brilliant novel of events … The electricity and pace is exhilarating.' Jillian Quint, Bookpage

'This masterful novel manages to be focused and intimate … One of Carey's best.' Scott Indrisek, Time Out New York

'Hums with comic adventure.' Boris Kachka, New York magazine

'A brilliant new work … What a novel! … Funny, bawdy, brainy and moving, Parrot and Olivier in America is an utter delight.' Annabel Lyon, Globe & Mail (Toronto)

'Deliciously funny, sly and – best of all – beautifully composed … Provides myriad perspectives from which to assess how truly revolutionary – and grotesque – the first blotchy blueprints of modern democracy must have been.' Times of India

'Comic, well-observed and meticulously crafted.' Ed Taylor, Buffalo News

'A big, trippy, often strangely beautiful novel of observations … Vibrant and accessible, funny and often quite stirring.' Donna Rifkind, barnesandnoblereview.com

'Peter Carey is a lyrebird of stunning prowess, a mimic par excellence.' Robert Epstein, Independent on Sunday

'Wonderfully witty and visual prose, which springs surprise after surprise on the reader.' Andrew Taylor, Independent

'Every scene … smacks the senses.' Helen Brown, Daily Mail

'Extraordinarily allusive and joyously inventive … Spiced with his gutsy carnality, so that intellectual points become visceral moments.' Lucy Daniel, Daily Telegraph

'Energetic and expansive … Written with warmth and intelligence.' Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

'What [Carey] does with words: the power and delicacy, the complex orchestration of colour and theme, seems impossible – more like music than language … Glorious supple prose propelling a narrative whose powerful intelligence lends it the strange, inevitable quality of myth.' Jane Shilling, Evening Standard

'A triumph … Fiction that is reminiscent – in inventiveness if not in style and tone – of Henry James's novels that are concerned with the experience of expatriate Americans in Europe.' Alan Taylor, Herald (Scotland)

'An animated display of cacophonous literary ventriloquism … Carey's imagination feels as freshly minted and limitless as ever … His ebullient powers of storytelling ring loud and clear.' Claire Allfree, Metro (UK)

'Peter Carey continues to improvise and experiment … Parrot and Olivier in America, a comic adventure that functions with equal brilliance as a novel of ideas, can be added to a hit parade of extraordinary sharpness and vigour.' Leo Robson, New Statesman

'Even fuller than its predecessors of allusion, contrast and comic contradiction … There is always more to find: the more you bring to it, the more rewarding its insinuations, its unpredictable switches between satire, serious reflection, and plain fun … Demands and repays repeated reading.' Tom Shippey, Times Literary Supplement

'In a number of his more successful and entertaining novels, Peter Carey has jumped into Dickens's London and Ned Kelly's Australia, and told his novel stories about such times and places almost as if we were hearing from them for the first time. A master of the vernacular with a historical tilt, he has now given us, in Parrot and Olivier in America, a duet of dueling voices that come together to make yet another historical triumph.' Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

'Energetically intelligent … Terrific reading … Shrewdly funny … Bristles like a hedgehog with all of Carey's spiky ideas ... There's enough to snag your imagination on, and to spare.' Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

'Ebullient and colorful … Rousing, comic, and full of vitality … Carey's exploration of the political and social contrasts between old world and new takes place amid a dramatic tale of love, danger, and numerous narrow escapes. The story is hilarious and sad, hair-raising and cruel, beguiling and generous … A thoroughly enjoyable novel for all who like their historical fiction literary, atmospheric, stimulating, and a bit larger than life.' Lynn Harnett, Seacoastonline.com

'Parrot offers Carey an excellent occasion to create swaggering 19th century brogue – and a new vantage to explore the transformative power of America.' Tess Taylor, Chicago Tribune

'One assumes it was no simple thing for Peter Carey to give birth to this masterful, sprawling epic. But oh, the reader is so pleased that the effort succeeded.' Kim Crow, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

'Amusement and insight ensue as the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier ... Carey uses the twosome to convey some articulate social and cultural observations about the theory, practice, and adventure of American history and democracy.' Gordon Hauptfleisch, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

'Full of lush detail, period lingo, and plenty of Dickensian coincidence and excitement.' Julia Ridley-Smith, Charlotte Observer

  • Pub date: 31 January 2011
  • ISBN: 9780143203520
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 468
  • RRP: $19.99

About the Author

Peter Carey

Peter Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, and now lives in New York. He is the author of fourteen novels (including one for children), two volumes of short stories, and two books on travel. Amongst other prizes, Carey has won the Booker Prize twice (for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize twice (for Jack Maggs and True History of the Kelly Gang), and the Miles Franklin Literary Award three times (for Bliss, Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs). He is an officer of the Order of Australia and a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Also by Peter Carey

See all

Awards & Recognition

  • Randwick Award for Literature

    Winner • 2010 • Best Book

  • Booker Prize

    Shortlisted • 2010 • Best Book

  • Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Regional)

    Shortlisted • 2010 • Best Book

  • International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

    Longlisted • 2010 • Best Book

  • Qld Premier's Literary Award

    Shortlisted • 2010 • Fiction

  • The Age Book of the Year

    Shortlisted • 2010 • Fiction

  • The Miles Franklin Literary Award

    Longlisted • 2010 • Best Book

  • Victorian Premier's Literary Award

    Shortlisted • 2010 • Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

  • NSW Premier's Literary Awards

    Shortlisted • 2011 • Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

Related titles