Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reading: Peter Carey at the Harvard Book Store

Last night I was lucky enough to get to see Australian author Peter Carey read from his latest novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, at a reading sponsored by the fabulous Harvard Book Store.

Carey began by talking about Alexis de Toqueville, the French aristocrat and author of Democracy in America, his observations on the young United States published in 1835 and 1840. Toqueville was the inspiration for the book and for the character Olivier de Garmont, a French aristocrat and child of survivors of the French Revolution, who comes to America with his servant Parrot to observe the American prison system. Carey then read segments from the book and took questions.

He was a fun speaker, by turns smart, snarky and charming, and did a funny, engaging talk and reading. In the Q&A period, we learned that the first Australian edition of Oscar and Lucinda was printed on "toilet paper" and that no, he has not seen the movie.

Carey is also the author of a bunch of nonfiction and 11 novels including two Booker Prize winners, Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. Before the release of Parrot and Olivier I was thinking about writing an Author Appreciation about him but since I've only read Oscar and Lucinda it would be a little difficult. In lieu of that, here's an excerpt from my review:
Carey does an amazing job with Oscar and Lucinda. The writing itself is gorgeous, literary and loaded- more like a nineteenth century love story than one written in the nineteen-eighties. I like that he chose a style that reflected the time and place of the story's setting rather than a more modern style. It's a wonderful throwback to the days when characters were rich and nuanced and novel structure more formal and stylized. It's also highly readable, with an engaging plot and characters you come to know well and care for. Carey evokes his settings beautifully as well; Australia comes across as an anarchic frontier of gamblers and predators, victims and saints. The action keeps going right to last sentence, and I didn't want it to end. I wish every book could be this good!
So yeah, even though it's the only book of his I've read, it's one of my favorite books ever, right up there with Possession, so that has to count for something.

I've only just started Parrot and Olivier and while I'm certainly enjoying it, it's much too early to say more than that. It's received some great reviews so far, including one by British author Ursula K. Le Guin, so I'm pretty optimistic that it'll end up being a favorite of mine, as well. I'll definitely keep you posted!

Here's my signed title page from Parrot and Olivier; I also brought nice copies of Oscar and Lucinda and True History for my Booker Prize collection. What I didn't bring was the copy of Oscar and Lucinda I actually read, a battered paperback with a taped-on cover and coffee stains. When you get books signed, what would you rather bring- the book you read or a pristine copy for collecting? I almost regret not bringing my reading copy but then again, does it matter that much?

14 comments:

Rose City Reader said...

Sounds like a wonderful author event!

Oscar & Lucinda is on my TBR shelf. I confess that I have put it off for several years because I was bored by The True History of the Kelly Gang -- the only one of his books I've read -- so have been reluctant to try another.

But your praise inspires me to get to it.

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I usually bring whatever copy I own, if I have one. If not, i will buy either my favorite or the newest title by the author in support. In my bookstore days, i've worked so many events with authors that I call ahead and ask the store what the author is willing to sign.

I've never read his books but I have seen them many a time.

Great event.

I miss the Harvard Book Store from my time living in Boston. You are lucky.

Serena said...

I loved Oscar and Lucinda! I must read this new book...thanks for the event recap!

bermudaonion said...

Oh, how I love author events and this one sounds just wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

SFP said...

You're very lucky. Oscar and Lucinda was one of my favorites a couple years back. I didn't like Kelly Gang near as much as I'd expected. . . but I think I went into it with the wrong expectations and wasn't able to let them go.

Wish my copy of Parrot and Olivier was signed!

Melissa said...

My brother and I differ on this point. He always thinks of the sale value of the title, so his are never inscribed. I think of sentimental value, so I ask for mine to be inscribed and I always bring the copy I've read - if I go to the event and wait in line for however long to have my book signed I want the author to know how much I liked the book (case in point: Howard Zinn asked if his book tasted good when I handed him my well-thumbed, dog-eared, and beloved copy of A People's History of the United States during a signing).

Hannah Stoneham said...

How exciting! I love Peter Carey and am most envious

hannah

Zibilee said...

I have a copy of Oscar and Lucinda, and now I and now I am eager to read it! I am so glad you got to meet Carey and get your book signed. What an awesome experience for you!

Kathleen said...

Sad to say I am not familiar with this author. I think I would like Oscar and Lucinda though, based on your excerpt from your review. I look forward to hearing what you think of his new book. It is always a thrill to meet an author, isn't it?

Shelley said...

I've been thinking lately that I live on the wrong coast as far as literary events go! Oscar and Lucinda is one of those many books I want to read and hope to get to.

jewwishes said...

How nice for you that you saw Peter Carey in person, and have a signed copy of his latest book (which I have seen in the book stores).

nomadreader said...

What a wonderful event! I have yet to read any Peter Carey (I know, I know, somehow he's been under my radar for far too long), but I'm looking forward to Parrot and Oliver.

Mystica said...

Sounds a lovely event and thank you for highlighting books which have been unknown to me.

Dave said...

I usually wind up bringing new copies to a reading, so the autographed editions will last longer. Eventually, I hope, my kids will value them. At least the print editions will be a novelty among all of their e-books.