Using dual narrators, Peter Carey deftly portrays America, and to a lesser extent France and England, in the time frame following the French Revolution.
Our first narrator, is Olivier de Garmont, who by necessity engendered from his standing as a French aristocrat, must vacate France. To avoid political censure and create a face-saving reason for running away, it is decided that he will travel to America and write a book, supposedly for the French government, on the prison system in the New World. Olivier’s character is loosely based on Alexis de Tocqueville and his writing of Democracy in America.
Through various machinations of plot our other narrator, John “Parrot” Larrit, a poor Englishman of humble beginnings, finds himself thrown into the position of servant to Olivier and on his way to America as well.
By turns humorous, enlightening, touching, and gripping, Mr. Carey’s novel is an intricately complex page-turner of the very best sort. A portrait of the social culture of the America of the age is gently unfolded as the pampered, old world aristocrat and the down-trodden servant begin to equalize in matters of intellect, patriotism, cunning, respect, love and friendship.
The audio, put out by Blackstone and narrated by Humphrey Bower, will without a doubt be my number one audio for 2011. Given that this year I have listened to far more books than I have read in print, that is quite high praise. Mr. Bower so perfectly captures the accent and persona of both characters that I was surprised to realize that the book, which uses the format of alternating chapters being narrated from the viewpoint of each character in turn, did not use two different actors, one for each voice.
I absolutely loved this novel. It has everything a reader could wish for in a good work of historical fiction in terms of research smoothly intertwined within the plot, compelling characters (both from history and Mr. Carey’s imagination), and vivid prose that drew me in whether the topic was of a personal or societal nature. Whether you choose to listen to Humphrey Bower’s masterful performance or let Peter Carey’s words speak for themselves, this is an absolute must read.