Tocqueville, recast here in garish tones as Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Garmont, strolls out of his famous Democracy in America and into the pages of this kaleidoscopic story along with the whole grasping, bragging, bargaining cast of our ravenous nation. It's another feat of acrobatic ventriloquism, joining Carey's masterpieces, Jack Maggs, which pulled on a loose thread in Dickens's Great Expectations, and True History of the Kelly Gang, which blasted through the life of a legendary Australian outlaw.
Ron Charles - Washington Post
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.
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. —Sarah Conrad Weisman, Corning Community Coll. Lib., NY
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-eyedcourtship distracts attention from a more interesting development: the budding friendship between the principals ("in a democracy...both parties know that the servant may at any moment become the master"). Quirky and erudite, but the payoff in human-interest terms is meager.
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