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?