I'm not sure why I thought I would like this book more than I did. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the early 1800's Europe as a moment in history, but the look at America as a burgeoning democracy was enticing. However, the stylized language, as accurate as it may have been, was wearisome and cumbersome. It was longer than it needed to be. Character revelations came too late - I already didn't care about them or their motives or histories. Themes of incarceration, class in democracy, and the male friendship between the two title characters were not well developed. I was just bored.
The book follows Olivier, the snobbish son of French nobles in post-Revolutionary France, and Parrot, his reluctant English servant, who was originally trained as an engraver. Olivier is forced to escape to America to avoid a revival of the revolutionary feeling in Paris with Parrot, along with his French mistress and her elderly mother, under the guise of completing a book about the American prison system. Blah blah blah he has several encounters in the new world, a brush with the law and a failed romance. Parrot discovers a new life and artistic ability in America and is happy. Olivier is not.
Sure, there were some good moments - Peter Carey is clearly an expert even if I didn't care for this novel. I loved the insect metaphors he peppered throughout: people resembling wasps, silkworms, crickets and butterflies. I particularly liked his description of a French wine encountered in America:
Although this glass of wine sounds excellent, the rest of the novel just wasn't for me.I bemoaned the palates of the Philadelphians who had called his Medoc cold and sour. Miraculously, it was free of sediment, and rushed into my glass at that perfect stage of life. In a year it would be a dowager with a faded old corsage, but as it entered my mouth it was vigorous and manly, completely composed, its orchestra all present and correct. Oh heavens, that such small things make a man so happy.