21st Century Literature discussion

Parrot and Olivier in America
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2012 Book Discussions > Parrot and Olivier in America - Completed Book (Contains Spoilers!!) Now Open! (August 2012)

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message 1: by Will (last edited Aug 17, 2012 09:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) Ok, so here's the place for the discussion of the complete book. If you haven't read the entire thing yet, turn away now!

Let's start with some stock questions, this time supplied by the lovely folks from Oprah (I live in Chicago, so if I say otherwise, they'll find my body in a gravel pit with a book club sticker over my mouth):

1. Why does Carey choose to let Parrot and Olivier narrate their own stories? What makes their narrative voices so distinctive and engaging? What would be lost if the novel were told from a single perspective or by an omniscient narrator?

2. In what ways are Parrot and Olivier uniquely positioned to represent the huge social changes that were sweeping across Europe and America during the late-18th and early-19th centuries?

3. As he arrives in America, Olivier remarks that "the coast of Connecticut was the most shocking monument to avarice one could have ever witnessed, its ancient forests gone, smashed down and carted off for profit" (page 144). What other instances of American greed does he observe? What is the irony of a French aristocrat being appalled by the greed given free rein by American democracy?

4. Carey's prose style in Parrot and Olivier in America is vivid, richly metaphoric, and often extravagantly sensuous. When Parrot and Mathilde make up after a fight, for example, Parrot writes that her "hands were dragging at my clothes and her upturned face was filled with cooey dove and tiger rage. Her mouth was washed with tears. I ate her, drank her, boiled her, stroked her till she was like a lovely flapping fish and her hair was drenched and our eyes held and our skins slid off each other and we smelled like farm animals, seaweed, the tanneries upriver" (page 148). What are the pleasures of such writing? Where else in the novel does the writing reach this pitch of overflowing metaphor?

5. What does Olivier find to be the most appealing characteristics of America's fledgling democracy? What does he find most baffling?

6. Olivier is loosely based on Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat and author of the classic Democracy in America. In what ways does Olivier resemble Tocqueville? In what ways does Carey depart from the historical figure to create his own character?

7. How do Parrot and Olivier initially regard each other? What are the major turning points that lead to their unlikely friendship? Why is their friendship possible only in America?

8. At the end of the novel, Olivier argues that America's young democracy "will not ripen well," that it will suffer the "tyranny of the majority" (page 378), and that the American people prefer their leaders to be just as undereducated as they are. He goes on to tell Parrot: "You will follow fur traders and woodsmen as your presidents, and they will be as barbarians at the head of armies, ignorant of geography and science, the leaders of a mob daily educated by a perfidious press which will make them so confident and ignorant that the only books on their shelves will be instruction manuals..." (page 380). Parrot attributes Olivier's harsh judgment to being heartbroken and having suffered as "a child of the awful guillotine" (page 380). But to what extent have Olivier's predictions come true? In what ways can this passage be read as a sly commentary on recent presidents and the sorry state of the press in America?

9. How are Olivier and Parrot differently affected by the leveling of class distinctions in America? Does Parrot benefit from being in America?

10. Why does Amelia break off her engagement to Olivier? Does she make the right decision? Is Olivier better off without her?

11. Of the banker Peek's mortgage loan to Mathilde, Parrot says: "For Peek had played Shylock with her, himself lending her the capital and loading her to breaking point with every type of extra fee, compulsory insurance, brokerage, advance payments on taxes I am still sure that he invented" (page 272). How surprising is it to see this version of today's housing boondoggles played out in in the 1830s? What is the significance of these schemes having such a long history?

12. After he discovers that Mathilde, Eckerd, and Watkins have burned down their house for insurance money, Parrot exclaims: "You are scoundrels, all of you." To which Mathilde replies: "We are artists. We have a right to live" (page 314). Is Parrot right to call them scoundrels? Or is Mathilde's point of view the more sympathetic one?

13. What are some of the funniest moments in Parrot and Olivier in America? What makes Carey's writing so humorous?

14. What does the novel add to our knowledge of the early period of American democracy by seeing it through the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier? In what ways does the era described in the novel mirror our own?

Will (wjmcomposer) I've opened up this final section to discussion at last. I'll let the thread ripen a bit before posting my own review of the book and answers to some of oprah's questions (some are tedious questions, IMHO). And I'll add another: "considering the author is an Australian, who despite living nearly his entire professional life in New York City and has avoided setting his work in America or dealing with American themes up to now, what opinions and emotions were you able to glean from his book?"

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
Hmmm. I've never been a lover of one size fits all stock questions. It makes me feel...well, to use a theme from the book: imprisoned. Perhaps that sentiment will earn me my own shallow grave with book club packaging, but I'll take the risk of vocalizing my opinion.

A lot of the questions assume the reader immensely enjoyed the book, asking why the narrative was so engaging (#1), or why the writing was so humorous (#13). I didn't find either Parrot or Olivier engaging or humorous, so it sort of renders discussion moot.

From another perspective, question #8 is a potential powder keg. Should I, as a Canadian, use an Australian author's work to suggest American shortcomings? Regardless of whether our opinions are similar, that is a discussion from which I will gladly recuse myself.

I will, however, attempt an offering of a hybrid response to #5 and #9. One theme I thoroughly enjoyed was the notion of what is valued. In Olivier's France, position is the birthright of the nobility on account of their culture. They appreciate painting, writing, drama, food and wine, and possess a certain politesse that identifies them as civilized. Value, for them, is based on the appreciation of inherent refinement, talent and quality.

In Carey's revisioning of America, however, position is almost entirely based on wealth, the acquisition of which is the central and driving principle behind life. There is no appreciation of culture beyond advertised expense, and the worth of an object is entirely based on dollar value.

I especially revelled in Olivier's rant that art in America will only serve to have uncultured plutocrats fight over who can pay the most money for the lastest novelty. That often remains the case today, where the nouveau riche rush in to spend obscene amounts on the latest fad just to have their money noticed - whether that is a mediocre champagned endorsed by rap stars, or must-have sweatshop accessories from the latest designer.

Back to the book, however, Parrot ends up caught between two worlds. While he enjoys the ability to increase his social standing in America, he is cultured enough to understand the value in art that would only be appreciated in Europe. I did enjoy that dialectic tension of straddling unique impossibilities on either continent, yet finding an equilibrium that allowed Parrot to harness the freedoms of America while catering to the culture of Europe.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Whew! Done. I haven't even read the questions yet. (Sorry Will! I will. I promise.) I'm trying to figure out what I think.

On one hand, it was worth reading. It got better and better and there were a few moments that on their own were worth the price of admittance. I loved the discourse on democracy and art. I love the fact that the truth, as it so often does, lies (lays?) between Olivier's pessimism and Parrot's faith. In many ways, as our earlier conversation reflects democracy has let the media decide what is offered for mass consumption, and the media is a tacky little whore. But there is more to art thankfully than what is franchised and served up in heaping dollops of swill. (Yikes, I sound bitter. It's really not so bad. Really!)

On the other hand, I resent that the first third of the book sort of sucked. That's a subjective assessment, not an objective pronouncement by the way.

message 5: by Daniel (last edited Aug 17, 2012 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "On the other hand, I resent that the first third of the book sort of sucked. That's a subjective assessment, not an objective pronouncement by the way..."

I think "sucked" has a rather objective ring to it... ;-)

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Pejorative, but still subjective.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Alright. I see your point. Let me rephrase:
I thought the first third of the book sort of sucked.

message 8: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (last edited Aug 18, 2012 03:43AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Daniel wrote: "A lot of the questions assume the reader immensely enjoyed the book, asking why the narrative was so engaging (#1), or why the writing was so humorous (#13). I didn't find either Parrot or Olivier engaging or humorous, so it sort of renders discussion moot."

I feel the same way. I don't want to come over all negative (!), but I found nothing about this book to like. I guess my task is to say, why.

message 9: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (last edited Aug 18, 2012 03:45AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
We could say that this is about Alexis de Tocqueville, the young French nobleman who wrote 'Democracy in America , but only if ‘about’ means 'more or less inspired by'. Olivier de Garmont’s personality and career only resemble Alexis de Tocqueville’s in some respects, but not at all in others.

Accordingly, Olivier is not a portrait, but at most a caricature, who isn't even interested in the America to which he is exiled until he falls in love with a fine, free-wheeling American girl. Parrot's role is less of a caricature. But he’s scarcely your average working-class Englishman.

So, exactly as its title promises, the book is about Parrot and Olivier in America. But it's not about America. And its picture of a coarse, young United States (based largely on De Tocqueville, of course, and probably also on later observers such as Frances Trollope and Charles Dickens) is predictable. Further, we see the world only through the eyes of the two narrators, both of whom, moved by fear, anger and scorn dismiss people and events cynically, without much attempt to understand them. A series of quick glimpses can, of course, give a quite complete picture, but there's no completeness here – neither narrator is a good observer, both are far more interested in themselves than in what's around them.

Carey's view is in its way as utopian as the Dickensian view of Australia that he so devastatingly dismantled in Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs. But, as long as his literary imagination is, like Parrot, settled in America, Carey seems unlikely to repeat the virtuosity of True History of the Kelly Gang.

I consider Peter Carey's imagination has failed him on this occasion. I wasn't even entertained by this novel.

message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) Rarely do I have so much agreement in me, but on this, I do. However, my comments will have to wait as I've been drafted into assisting on a younger friend's 21st birthday (which in this country means the lad can drink openly)...so I have a gallon of my famous stolen margaritas to make (stolen because it's from a popular restaurant known for it's margaritas and I got the recipe)

message 11: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (Joy1) | 2047 comments Dear me! You all make me think maybe I ought to shelve this read (I'm not done, but knowing spoilers seldom decides for me whether to continue or drop a read -- writing quality may, however.) and see if I can tackle Democracy in America itself instead. I have never read it.

I am curious. Did any of you find your impressions of P&O influenced by your readings or knowledge of Tocqueville, whether that contact was recent or in more distant memory?

message 12: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
I knew nothing about Tocqueville before reading this book. (And I don't know a lot more now!). If you're enjoying the book I recommend you keep going; a LOT of people have rated it very highly!

message 13: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (Joy1) | 2047 comments Sophia wrote: "I knew nothing about Tocqueville before reading this book. (And I don't know a lot more now!). If you're enjoying the book I recommend you keep going; a LOT of people have rated it very highly!"

Thx for the input, Sophia. I do need something to lighten up the heavy stuff on my reading stack right now; with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Helen Simonson) finished for this past wkend's discussion, P&O seems like the current candidate. Maybe the Brit/Aussie humor is in my blood at the moment.

message 14: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
If you appreciate Carey's sense of humour this could be just the thing. Unfortunately I didn't, on this occasion.

message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) I'll begin to throw in my full comments, beginning with my completed review:
Well, this book had some serious ups and downs. On the negative, the book is frequently dull, and somewhat plodding, making meaningless and drab descriptions of early American life, amongst other things. It's hard to imagine how the author accomplished this considering how colorful the time is (I happen to be reading an immense amount of revolutionary-1812 era American writing at the moment by sheer coincidence.)

On the positive, Carey elevates his prose to the peak of eloquence....for a few sentences, then drops back down to a more pedestrian level. There are sections where entire pages are sublime, but in general, the book is so spotty in this manner it's hard to objectively recommend it to one's friends.

Next the themes... In general, the author, an Australian who has lived in NYC and done almost all his professional work within the USA's borders seems to have a serious love-hate relationship with it. He takes great fun at lambasting our political process, at lancing the commerce of art and it's buyers, painting them as the tasteless peasants with new found money which many surely are in any age of history after the development of the merchant or middle class. However, as a professional artist, I can assure you, Gentle Reader, that old money is exactly as clueless of quality, mercenary of money, and as petty of taste as any nouveau riche or bourgeois banker to be found in the new world, whether of this age or the Jacksonian past. And complaint of anyone's method of selection of leadership would imply there's a superior system elsewhere. While I personally, while being quite American, prefer a Parliamentary system, it's not as though it provides a VASTLY superior product in terms of leadership. I just happen to prefer the ability of a bicameral system to still function in a highly divided age (unlike the current U.S. Congress)..so cheap shots at American leadership seem to lose their punch coming from a Aussie who abandoned his native shore so long ago.

I'm given to understand that the author, Mr. Carey has avoided American settings and themes quite studiously during his career, making this sole venture into them. Perhaps he'll go back to avoiding them in the future. My countrymen are ignorant enough of our own history and system (while maintaining a self-image quite the opposite) that this kind of stuff muddles the works even more.

In general, he gets three stars, for the boldness of the attempt, and the rare nugget of fine writing to be found. Overall, I wouldn't recommend it to a friend though, as those nuggets are too rarely found, and the political and philosophical statements are too flawed from being imprecise, incorrect, and ill-informed. Take umbrage or principled stance if you like, disagree with me all you care to, but please do so from a position of fact and objective consideration, not from generalities. The impression I gain is that the author simply doesn't like ANY leadership, ANY system, or ANY society. Like my countrymen who are crippled by apathy and cynicism, I can point out that YOU are the government, YOU are society. In this context the author comes across like a child being pointlessly mean, slapping you with your own hand while saying, 'Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself...'.

message 16: by Will (last edited Aug 20, 2012 09:05AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) And my answers to the questions:
As Daniel put so well, many of these are a sort of stock question, and imply I loved the book, which I didn't...that said,

#1: The book is clearly (IMO) designed around the device of the duel narrator. It's intent is to contrast the backgrounds and experiences of it's voices in the same societies. What would be lost is the point of the book. Question moot (IMO).

#2: if I have to tell you....

#3: Ok, here I have a question for you all...the part of the question
What is the irony of a French aristocrat being appalled by the greed given free rein by American democracy?
I'm not sure...what IS the irony? Somebody help me on this one.

#4: pointless
#5,6: did you read it?
#7: it's not, move on.

#8: Then move back to Australia. Oh, you don't like them better? Then perhaps Uruguay? They are pretty accepting these days.

#9: They BOTH obviously profit.
#10: because it's a literary device without which the book just ends with everybody vaguely happy. It seemed forced to me.

#11: *sigh*
#12: This was a bizarre section of the book. To imply that artists get to commit arson as justification makes no sense (I'm an artist from a family of them...no arson) Another example where I felt the characters behavior didn't match the world and personality the author created.

#13: As Daniel said so well, they weren't. I didn't.

#14: It doesn't, and didn't.

message 17: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) Ok, and lastly, to argue:

with Daniel, I don't think the position of the nobility of Olivier's France was
"position is the birthright of the nobility on account of their culture. They appreciate painting, writing, drama, food and wine, and possess a certain politesse that identifies them as civilized. Value, for them, is based on the appreciation of inherent refinement, talent and quality."

I think they'd LIKE it to be such, and many modern readers would as well. In truth, it was largely hereditary, much as family money is in today's world. They have the wealth to cloak themselves in culture as a deerhunter would camouflage themselves in the woods. If I surround myself with things people tell me are great culture, and I profess to appreciate them, then clearly I must be highly cultured myself. I suspect the appreciation of wine, music, writing, and painting is largely an illusion. It reminds me of a very recent (last month?) test of wines, where they didn't tell a roomful of wine experts that the test was really of THEM. They gave them a bunch of wine, much or most of which was cheap stuff, some even from a box (and no, I don't mean good wine sold cheaply, I mean CHEAP wine) which they were told was excellent wine, and they rated it quite highly, since afterall, you told them it was good, and that they were experts, so how could they let you and themselves down?

As an artist, I can assure you that European tastes, regardless of history or tradition are as vain and venial as anyone else's, they just have different poor tastes in things. There is a tradition of state support of the arts and of the assurance of the provenance of foodstuffs, and truth in advertising in western Europe, which is interesting, but the quality of art or it's appreciation doesn't seem to be any higher, just different. All places have a large number, even a majority of people who have a mercenary view of art. I will also point out that is how an artist gets paid, and makes a living. If you work in an office, you believe you are entitled to make a fair wage and get raises now and then. Yet most Europeans and Americans will happily tell you (the artist) that they don't think you should get paid anything, or offer you $50 for something. Russians seem to have a somewhat different viewpoint, interestingly enough. I think there you find a truly cultured society, independent of wealth. Russians are, however, scary (I say that as someone who has dealt with many since childhood.)

To berate the media for being tacky is to imply there is a different kind of media that isn't. That ideal media has never existed, largely because the consumer has never wanted it. Ok, my father would at this point (he is an author and journalist, as well as art professor) complain that I'm forgetting about the City News Bureau of Chicago (a fascinating story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_New... ) to which I point out it was bled dry by the 1970's, and killed in the '80s and 90's, and is remarkable only in its concept, and point out it's implementation was that of a service, and it's member papers could and would then write whatever sensationalistic tripe they wanted.

Deborah - The first third of the book did suck. How much subjective makes the objective?

@ Sophia, I agree very much that Olivier is little more than a caricature, and the whole concept of the book suffers for it. I felt both narrators began shaky, and got more and more unreliable as they went.

@ lily - If you enjoy something, finish it. Don't let anybody bully you out of enjoyment. I often read amazingly obscure and tough things for which people think I'm super smart. They seem to forget I also read things which are complete junk, but which I enjoy. The idea is to enrich and entertain yourself, finish the book (unless you really hate it)

*whew* That was a lot.

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
Sophia: I wanted to voice my appreciation of your comment in message #9 above: "...neither narrator is a good observer, both are far more interested in themselves than in what's around them." It served as a eureka moment to drive home what should have been an obvious point, that the narrator is only as interesting as his observations.

Thinking about it now through the lens of the narrator, I've settled upon a notion as to why the book lacked much spark for me. Olivier is indeed a caricature, but one that requires a proper foil to fully appreciate. Where I needed a grounded character of the common class through whom to view the humour and awkwardness of Olivier in America, I was instead given Parrot - someone as equally adrift, emotionally weak and psychically damaged as Olivier.

message 19: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) That last part of the comment was interesting, that you needed a grounded character as a foil, but we got Parrot instead! I fully agree with that.

Also, I'm still interested in people's thoughts about Oprah Question #3, the irony. I still don't really get it.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
I think the irony refers to the greed that is attributed to French nobility, you know the people have no bread, your highness etc.

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
Will: I'm glad to finally elicit some argument. It was getting a little tedious all being in agreement like some happy little family...

In reality, I do honestly agree with your disagreement. Culture can often be little more than a shibboleth of the societal elite. In terms of the book, however, I was trying to verbalize a rather nebulous theme that appealed to me.

Europe and America happen to be the examples used by Carey, but the cerebral appeal for me was seeing Nouveau-Riche attitudes through Old Money eyes. In the European/American context of the book, it also asks the question of whether culture was degraded by allowing democracy into the sphere of culture.

These questions and concepts are romantic navel-gazing at best, fightin' words at worst -- but I still took immense enjoyment from ruminating over them.

message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) I had actually written a massive, 2 page reply to this, about 2 days ago, ranting about the international arts market, but GR quite wisely decided to crash for 10 minutes and not save it. That was probably smart on it's part. In short, culture, it's appreciation and quality have nothing whatsoever to do with money or class...sadly enough. And I based that upon my experiences as a professional artist from a family of them. Boil it down to: "Taste is independent of all else."

That said, what are you all thinking about the failed marriage proposal from Olivier? It seemed like a weak device to me, perhaps not well thought through.

Mikela Deborah wrote: "I think the irony refers to the greed that is attributed to French nobility, you know the people have no bread, your highness etc."

Ah, the equivalent of the elite from all countries.

message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) So, I'll ask again:
Did anybody have some thoughts about the failed engagement with Olivier? It seemed forced and nonsensical to me. I'd like to hear what others thing though.

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
I didn't like the failed engagement at all, but it seems of a piece with Olivier's character - more in the sense that I never understood the motivation behind any of his actions, and consequently never really cared about the outcome.

You mention its use as a device. Did you have something specific in mind, or were you merely speaking in terms of plot? To me, it seemed intended as a means to have Olivier's "American Dream" smashed just as Parrot's is approaching reality. Having said that, I didn't feel enough [any] connection with Olivier for this to have any emotional impact.

message 26: by Deborah (last edited Aug 23, 2012 09:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
A device to land him on Parrot's door? And to reverse their status as haves and have nots?

message 27: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) Yes, it seemed like nobody behaved like a real person would in this episode, but I was wondering if others felt that way too.

He needed to bring the aristocracy down and have some kind of arc to Olivier (who pretty much flatlines it from the boat to the USA onwards) Parrot has all kinds of ups and downs. Olivier is born, whines, whines some more, and finally has a peak and valley with the engagement. It just seemed unnatural and forced to me.

message 28: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Will wrote: "It just seemed unnatural and forced to me. "

Yes, the engagement was probably the weakest plot device in the whole sorry book.

message 29: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1605 comments Mod
I was reading this book until August 8th, when my house burned down. In the aftermath, I found my library copy of Parrot and Olivier, but it was seriously damaged, as was my copy of the Pale King, which I had not yet started. Having seen the reactions here, I don't think I am going to be trying Parrot and Olivier again. On to the Goon Squad!

message 30: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) I'm VERY sorry to hear about your house! I will say that sadly, parrot is probably not worth it. The pale king, however, is IMO

message 31: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
I second this.

How awful. At least YOU survived the fire.

message 32: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Casceil, I'm so sorry to hear about your house.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
I hope everyone is ok! So glad to have you back

Don't worry about PandO. The Pale King looks like a better bet, though if you react to disaster the way I do, I'd suggest coming back to it later. I tent to become easily distracted and restless. The writing of the Pale King is beautiful, and story fragments grabbed at me, but ultimately I had to put it aside. I didn't have the mental energy to to follow along.

message 34: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1605 comments Mod
Thank you all for your good wishes. All of the people got out of the house. We lost three cats, but a fourth was outside and is with us now. We had insurance, and our insurance company has put us up in a rental house that is really very nice. Deborah, I was having a lot of trouble reading the first couple of weeks, and kept switching books, but I finally finished one this morning, so I think I'm getting back on track. I picked up a copy of Unaccustomed Earth at the book store last night, so we'll see how that goes. It's good to be back.

message 35: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) I'm very sorry for your loss. I had a health scare with my cat recently, and as a result she has to live in a different town than I, so feline matters get easily through my personal defenses these days, so I'm very sad to hear about your recent tragedy. I'm glad to hear things are starting to get back on track, and look forward to sharing thoughts with you over the coming weeks.

Jeremy C. (Jbolfrog) | 12 comments There were parts of this book that I felt I didn't like, and didn't quite know why, until many of you have helped me put a finger on it, but I think I came away with more of a general overall enjoyment of the story than the rest of you in here. I think what really appealed to me was something that Will mentioned earlier in this thread, the idea of the old world money colliding with the new world money. I'm not well read enough to have really touched on this topic much, and so it was novel to me.

I liked learning more about the dynamics of the transition europe and america took during this time period in people's personal lives. Also I know many didn't like the unrelatableness or un-real person-ness... (hehehe... I don't know as many big words as the rest in here, so I do what I can :-), but one benefit that I thought of that came from these two unreliable narrators was the fact that the author could then state things like "art can't exist in a democracy" and other harsh judgements by Oliver, mentioned in question eight above, which allows the reader to become aware of these thoughts without making the reader feel like the author is preaching. Well, to me anyway. :-) I feel like these questions have been posed by someone for whom you haven't much sympathy, and for that precise reason you don't have to agree with him. So I'm left thinking "well he's wrong but could he be partially correct?" Or if I believe he's wrong, "does it still require my knowledge and action to make him wrong?" And I guess where I'm getting at here is that what we have here in america is an incredible amount of freedom, where we decide our destiny, and if I don't want my country to be at the mercy of the majority that I disagree with, or if I don't want my president to be ignorant, then what am I doing about it! :-) I found it enjoyable to read and be prompted towards that end. Of course if y'all think the author could have done it better, then I'd most likely relent :-) But I'm still happy I read the book :-) and happy I had a chance to discus it with this wonderful group!

message 37: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) I really like your comment, the part about how two unreliable narrators could allow the author to make his thoughts aware without bludgeoning the reader, since they're being made by a speaker without sympathy. It's a very interesting thought, actually! I agree I felt more at freedom to consider the ideas as abstractions, which when I think about why that would be, runs counter to my initial instincts, one would think that I would be indisposed against a speaker whom I felt some negativity towards.

Also, I think this is one of those cases where I felt as though the writer was railing against some things that he himself has obviously profited from, in this country. But I get the feeling from those who have read his other books that this is S.O.P. for him. It's easy to feel money cheapens cultural discourse, but I assure you that pandering to the questionable (at best) tastes of the aristocracy yields little improvement. Whether it's the literati or glitterati, taste is elusive in any quarters.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Jeremy, the questions you point up were the things I liked best. I loved the way that he handled questions bigger than the story by prisming them (yes also not a word, but should be) though Parrot and Olivier.

message 39: by Aura (new) - rated it 2 stars

Aura | 42 comments I found this book a bit difficult, at times certainly boring. Partially this was probably because English isn't my first language. I think the book would have profited a lot from a prologue of some sort, we the author would have explained his motivation for writing the book. A fresh democracy is an exciting subject but I wasn't able to get the most of it here... although I must say that it was fun to observe the astonishment and horror the idea of democracy incited in poor Olivier. He's from a planet we today have a hard time understanding... and we're most likely the better off for it! I agree with Jeremy about the point about unreliable narrators.

I was hoping for a Dickensian sort of story but the adventure somehow never started. I was also struggling to find an abundance of humour in the book... (even though I thought the arrival of Olivier at Parrot's was amusing!)

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
No, the problem isn't English as a second language. The book really was boring and rarely funny.

message 41: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will (wjmcomposer) @ Aura - I have to second Deborah's comments. It was mostly boring, punctuated by moments of brilliant writing far too rare to save the book. Your command of english is superb.

Mikela Casceil, now that I have a working keyboard again, I can tell you how sorry I am to hear about your lose of home and cats. That is truly horrible, but am so glad that you and your husband escaped alive and, I hope, uninjured.

message 43: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1605 comments Mod
Thank you, Mikela.

message 44: by Aura (new) - rated it 2 stars

Aura | 42 comments I don't know if this is the place for it, but Ursula Le Guin has reviewed the book for the British newspaper Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/... . I thought as the conversation has (mostly, I assume) ran its course it's ok to link an outsider/"professional" review. It's crazy how her thoughts are mostly exactly like ours expressed above... but she likes the book! :D

Jeremy C. (Jbolfrog) | 12 comments Thanks for posting Aura.

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
What a wonderful find, Aura! Thanks for sharing here. I also agree with your opinion. It almost seems ludicrous to think that another reader could point out so many of the same weaknesses, yet retain such a positive outlook of enjoyment. I suppose it's just another example of how subjective and diverse our tastes really are.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
I think too when reviewing our peers we approach things differently than a consumer. You never want to say to another writer, "Dude, what were you thinking?" You especially don't want to say so publicly, in print.

Jeremy C. (Jbolfrog) | 12 comments Deborah, that makes sense :-)

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
A valid point, Deborah, and certainly one that made me chuckle. I would counter, though, that Le Guin is old enough that she's passed that invisible age line where people no longer concern themselves with holding in their opinions (or their gas, for that matter).

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
She, judging by her writing rather than first hand experience, seems inclined toward kindness.

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