A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Whenever I read a Peter Carey novel, I search for Oscar.
I consider his Oscar and Lucinda a masterpiece, the pinnacle of his writing and comb his other books for associations with that one. In Illywhacker and …Tristan Smith, I found precursors. In later books, echoes, such as a puppy in Theft, that drowns in the same river Oscar floated his glass church upon . It’s a terrible habit and I wish I could stop it, but you know how obsession is.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that one of the main characters in Carey’s latest has dishelved red hair, just like Oscar. That would be Parrot, an orphaned printer’s apprentice who becomes a servant in middle age to Olivier, a French nobleman, who must flee the Continent during Napoleon’s reign. Their adventures and encounters in both Europe and America is the plot of this rambling book.
Olivier, who is based upon Alexis de Tocqueville, is quite full of himself and alarmed at the low standards of everything in America. Despite his higher station in life, he doesn’t really control anything in it, all of his doings are manipulated by his family or other people, his pomposity hides a pitiful person. Parrot has had a very rough life, with much sadness, yet strives to find love with Mathilde, a tempestuous French artist. Though Carey’s trademark is terribly flawed characters, Parrot was quite likable, though he didn’t make it easy.
This book was better than the author’s last few, with more appealing characters and an obvious, if meandering, story arc. It had the feel of a book written in the 1800’s, especially Olivier’s narrations, which even had certain random words italicized, just as was done at the time. Their continual journeys made it feel like an adventure tale and the reappearance of certain characters allowed the reader to form a bond with the pair. The whole book was strangely compelling, not least because you wanted to see just where such quirky personalities would end up. This novel is not as blunt or bizarre as some of Carey’s other books, but would make a good refreshment for a reader who is familiar with the author or as an introduction to him. It’s no Oscar and Lucinda, of course, but it’s still pretty good.
Alfred A. Knopf 2009 383 pp. ISBN 978-0-307-59262-0