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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Gosh, so sorry I’ve left this blog alone for so long.

Between my book tour and all the hoo ha over the end of my column and then starting my new Style Notes blog, I just haven’t had time.

Ah yes, the new blog. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do have a look. It’s at

The idea is that I will post a Style Notes to it each week and if you subscribe (the little button is right at the bottom of the blog), it will land in your in tray each Saturday morning, just like a newspaper plopping through your letterbox.

But obviously better, because it’s free and doesn’t use paper.

Although if you do have any elderly rels or neighbours who used to enjoy my column in that magazine, whatever it was called, and who aren’t on line, do please print out the new online version and give it to them.

I’m also doing an added extra post from the archives mid-week as well, and if you subscribe, that will also just turn up. The miracles of the interweb. I love it more each day.

Especially as I already have subscribers from America, Singapore, Switzerland, Qatar, UK and other farflung spots and none of them could get my column before.

It’s all good.

Now, back to books. The other reason I haven’t blogged on here for ages was that I couldn’t write about the last two books I read because the lovely Jennifer Byrnes invited me to appear on the Christmas special of First Tuesday Book Club, while I was in Sydney last month, and I didn’t want to spoil the show by revealing my thoughts on here.

It has now aired (rather cheekily, considering the first Tuesday of its title isn’t until next week, but whatever…) so for those who didn’t see it here’s what I thought of Carey’s latest.


I love, respect and worship Peter Carey’s writing with an unhealthy fervour (except for the one set in Singapore which I just didn’t get at all). True History of the Kelly Gang is one of my top ten books of all time. Possibly top five actually.

And I can now reveal that I wrote the voice of Theo in my latest book without using any commas, as an homage to the master. There isn’t a single comma in the whole of the Kelly Gang and I wanted to see if I could do it and have it still make sense. I hope I pulled it off.

This book charts the lives of two 18th century men – Parrot, the son of an English printer and Oliver, a French artistocrat – as they career around the world (there are journeys to Australia, as well as the America of the title). The chapters alternate the two voices.

It’s fast-paced, ridiculously broad in its scope and very funny. It’s really a study of the rise of democracy, via a compare and contrast of post-revolutionary France and early independent America, but it’s also a marvellous romp. There’s also some very sexy sex in it. Beautifully done.

But what I really loved about it was its flaws. It’s incredibly flawed. The plot hinges on the most outrageous coincidences – I counted five – and the side trip to Australia, with Joseph Banks, was completely unnecessary, but all of that just made me like it more.

I felt about it, just as I did with Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow: the flaws make it all the more alive and interesting. They make you feel somehow very connected to the great artist at work. And I do believe Peter Cary is a great artist. There are sentences in this book, of such glorious perfection they made me squeal with delight.

It was also the first book I read on my tragically lost Kindle *sobs*. About which more, next time.

PS If you live in Australia I think you can watch the First Tuesday Book Club Christmas special on the ABC iPlayer thingo.

Reading satisfaction: 9.5
Un-put-downable-ness: 8.5
Recommend to best girlfriend: 9
Recommend to mother: 8
Recommend to niece: 9
Recommend to gay best friend: 9
Recommend to man pal: 10
Recommend to Helen Razer: 10
Read on public transport: on a Kindle 10, in hardback 0, in paperback 10
Unpleasantness: 0


  1. You were great on the non-tuesday Tuesday book club!
    I have the Peter Carey on my to read list ALSO the Phryne Fisher which I find a bit of a giggle sorry you didn't like it!
    and whilst I love Emile Zola I think you are very brave to want to read him on the beach...too many distractions for me!!!
    I am off to join the new blog have a great week.

  2. Bugger - I'm one of the people that thought book club was on ABC tomorrow!
    I have this Carey book in my to-read pile on bedside table. I went a bit off him for a while but hopefully this is the book that pulls me back.
    Maggie - some (unrelated) feedback for you. You recommended some Mitford titles to me and I've just finished reading The Mitford's Letters between Six Sisters and I LOVED it. What a huge book and how wonderful to read all the little nicknames and the commentary on moments in time. Had a little tear at the end.

  3. I'm just catching up on the First Tuesday Book Club courtesy of iView - and I couldn't believe my ears when I heard you mention Elizabeth Taylor! I actually gasped in delight, I absolutely adore her writing and it's so rare to hear her mentioned. "In a Summer Season" is terrific, but so far my favourites are "A View of the Harbour" (my first!) and "The Sleeping Beauty". Keep spreading the word!

  4. Oops, I meant "The Soul of Kindness" in my previous comment, not "The Sleeping Beauty" (though they're both good).

  5. A wonderful book!
    And it provides a witty literary explanation for the US housing bubble and credit crisis:

  6. Well I will always list The True History of the Kelly Gang as one of my favourite books, I can't tell you how impressed I was. But since then I have read My Illegal Self which I didn't much fancy. Maybe I should give the man another go, this does sound rather good from everyone says.