Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Parrot & Olivier in America
400 pages; Knopf
Thin-skinned, myopic Olivier de Garmont is the scion of an aristocratic family terrorized (and mortified) by the French Revolution and its "great lava flow of democracy." Earthy, wily, artistic Parrot (a.k.a. John Larrit) is the son of an itinerant English printer who weaned him on Rousseau and the fugitive hope of human equality. Set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Peter Carey's gorgeously entertaining and moving new novel, Parrot & Olivier in America, takes this mismatched pair to that bold young republic. There, as Olivier observes in notes for his book on American culture (a ringer for Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America), someone invented the rocking chair because "everyone is in a state of agitation: some to attain power, others to grab wealth," while being "ceaselessly tormented by the vague fear that they have failed to choose the shortest route to achieve it." Olivier's nostalgia for his rarefied past—"the fine powder on the men's wigs...the extraordinary palette of the ancien régime, such pinks and greens, gorgeous silks and satins"—is in high contrast to Parrot's lonely childhood on a windswept moor, the "dark sac of grief inside which I cried my heart out...." This is a novel of fierce attachments, charting the proximity of beauty and terror in the human soul.
— Cathleen Medwick