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Theft: A Love Storyby Peter Carey
It is hard to think of a better storyteller than Peter Carey. His plots leap and bound with a narrative thrust propelled by the strength of his dynamic characters and also by his literary verve. Theft is a love story — eventually — but unlike most you'd ever come across. Carey lets loose all his intelligence and playfulness and the result is an awesome spectacle, a pleasure to behold.
"Theft could be seen as a companion piece to My Life as a Fake, and fans of Fake will rejoice in Theft. Carey's dazzling prose is energetic as ever, narrated by the unreliable and the highly neurotic....The art world is skewered mercilessly, the ego of the artist hilariously portrayed, and yet the creative act and the resulting work (whatever that may be — Carey is not keeping himself to painting exclusively) is treated with passionate respect." Georgie Lewis, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
"[I]nsanely readable....Carey, the author of Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang, writes convincingly of painters and painting, with careful attention to color, brushstroke, process....Theft showcases animated, hilarious, jewel-encrusted prose, and it is motored by some good old-fashioned storytelling." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
From the two-time Booker Prize-winning author and recipient of the Commonwealth Prize comes this new novel about obsession, deception, and redemption, at once an engrossing psychological suspense story and a work of highly charged, fiendishly funny literary fiction.
Michael — a.k.a. "Butcher" —Boone is an ex-"really famous" painter: opinionated, furious, brilliant, and now reduced to living in the remote country house of his biggest collector and acting as caretaker for his younger brother, Hugh, a damaged man of imposing physicality and childlike emotional volatility. Alone together they've forged a delicate and shifting equilibrium, a balance instantly destroyed when a mysterious young woman named Marlene walks out of a rainstorm and into their lives on three-inch Manolo Blahnik heels. Beautiful, smart, and ambitious, she's also the daughter-in-law of the late great painter Jacques Liebovitz, one of Butcher's earliest influences. She's sweet to Hugh and falls in love with Butcher, and they reciprocate in kind. And she sets in motion a chain of events that could be the making — or the ruin — of them all.
Told through the alternating points of view of the brothers — Butcher's urbane, intelligent, caustic observations contrasting with Hugh's bizarre, frequently poetic, utterly unique voice — Theft reminds us once again of Peter Carey's remarkable gift for creating indelible, fascinating characters and a narrative as gripping as it is deliriously surprising.
"Two-time Booker-winner Carey (Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang) returns with a magnificent high-stakes art heist wrapped around a fraternal saga. Butcher Boone is an all-id all-the-time Australian painter of enormous talent and renown. Now divorced and bankrupted by his former wife, who tired of his excesses, Butcher has been reduced to caretaking a remote estate for his largest collector. And since the deaths of his working-class parents, he has also been saddled with his beloved, bedeviling brother, Hugh, who, like Butcher, has a primarily pugilistic relationship with the world. One rain-flooded night, a chic young woman knocks on their door, having lost her way. She is Marlene, wife of Olivier Leibovitz, son and heir to an early 20th-century master. Soon the brothers are embroiled in an international crime investigation that eventually comprises forgery, vast sums of money and murder. None of this, however, distracts Butcher from his overpowering love affair with Marlene, which threatens to leave Hugh stranded in an unforgiving world. Scenes in Australia, Japan and New York feature unique forms of fleecing, but setting and action are icing on the emotional core of Carey's newest masterwork. 75,000 announced first printing. (May 12)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Peter Carey has a problem with telling the truth. And in one magnificent novel after another, he struggles to solve it. His criminal narrators in 'Jack Maggs' and 'True History of the Kelly Gang' plead their cases even as condemnation crashes down upon them. In 'My Life as a Fake,' an act of literary fraud takes human form like Frankenstein's monster and pursues its creator to the ends of the earth.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Given his devious trajectory, a novel about modern art seems like an inevitable destination for Carey. Could there be any more irresistible house of mirrors for an author fascinated by deceit and subterfuge? Fortunes rise and fall in a haze of aesthetic jargon spun by a few collectors and dealers. So strange is this phenomenon that if we didn't have the modern art market, Peter Carey would have to invent it. Consider, for instance, that the value of a masterpiece — like, say, a giant Campbell's Soup label or a dead goat with a tire around its belly — depends not only on its essential 'quality' but upon what curators call its 'provenance,' the record of ownership that establishes its authenticity back to the famous creator. When an artist leaves thousands of sketches, rough studies and finished copies among various countries, lovers and museums, provenance can be devilishly hard to establish, and that spectrum of confusion provides the perfect palette for Carey's new novel, 'Theft.' The story opens in 1980 in New South Wales where a deeply embittered, 'previously famous artist' named Michael 'Butcher' Boone is trying to get his life back in order. After a bad divorce that precipitated some jail time, Butcher is holed up with his huge, mentally handicapped brother in an empty country estate owned by his biggest collector. Butcher repays this man's hospitality by trashing the house and fraudulently charging lots of supplies to his account, but such are the liberties of genius, he tells us. Even while haphazardly caring for his brother and raging away against his ex-wife, lawyers and craven art dealers, he manages to create several enormous new paintings so dazzling that they terrify him. One dark and stormy night during this period, a gorgeous young woman named Marlene Leibovitz emerges from the outback and asks him for help with her car. Butcher is immediately captivated, as is his brother, Hugh, and this apparently chance encounter alters their lives forever. Marlene, it turns out, is an art dealer and the wife of Oliver Leibovitz, who is the son of Dominique, the second wife of the late Jacques Leibovitz, one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (You may want to take notes; I had to.) The authenticity of Leibovitz's valuable paintings is notoriously difficult to establish because on the night he died, Dominique and her lover, a crooked art dealer, absconded with about 50 of his works in progress, which they re-dated, doctored or 'finished' in order to fetch higher prices. With the death of his mother, the droit moral, the legal right to authenticate Leibovitz's paintings, now belongs to Oliver, and Marlene has come down to New South Wales to pass judgment on a Leibovitz painting owned by one of Butcher's neighbors. But several days after she authenticates it, it's stolen. When the police accuse Butcher of the crime, Marlene devises a nefarious plot to rehabilitate his career. If all this sounds complicated, consider yourself warned: Carey has set down an incredibly thick premise for this tangled love story, and it takes him several chapters to explain everything. Butcher has a raw, comic voice, but the thrilling narrative drive that propelled Carey's previous work gets mired here. Even when the story does move along — to Japan, then New York — we experience much of it as though we're standing too close to an impressionist canvas: It's vibrant, it's colorful, but what the hell is going on? All this is intentional, of course; Carey wants to challenge the logic of our perceptions, and he's certainly clever enough to do so. 'If you're a painter,' Butcher says at one point, 'you're already ahead of the story,' but if you're not, you'll be limping along behind. Ironically, some of the most compelling chapters are narrated by Hugh, Butcher's 'doughy, six foot four, filthy, dangerous-looking' brother, who carries a metal folding chair with him everywhere and speaks to us in a great swirl of discombobulated impressions, Biblical allusions, wry asides, childlike observations and accidental insights. 'It is hard work to slaughter a beast,' Hugh tells us, 'but when it is done it is done. If you are MAKING ART the labour never ends, no peace, no Sabbath, just eternal churning and cursing and worrying and fretting and there is nothing else to think of but the idiots who buy it or the insects destroying TWO DIMENSIONAL SPACE. ... Everything we stand on will be washed away.' Hugh senses his brother's frustration, even if he can only describe it in this kaleidoscopic style. As Marlene lures Butcher deeper and deeper into her scheme, everything he stands on is threatened: his integrity, his art, finally even his devotion to Hugh. 'I did not spare a moment to wonder about the consequences of drifting into the poisonous orbit,' Butcher confesses. 'I was in love.' In the end, romantic attraction proves no easier to authenticate than a 'rediscovered' masterpiece. Between these two fraternal perspectives, one skewed by desire, the other by a brain disorder, Carey frames a story that shifts before our eyes — maddeningly complex, hypnotically brilliant, entirely original. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"[A] feisty ironic comedy....
"Carey is at his satirical best as he mocks the venality of the international art market, and at his most tender in his spirited portrayal of daring misfits who fled the confines of working-class life 'half mad with joy' once they discovered the transformative power of art." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Sharply observed, well written, and acerbically witty, this book will only further Carey's reputation." Library Journal
"It's vibrant, it's colorful, but what the hell is going on?...Carey frames a story that shifts before our eyes — maddeningly complex, hypnotically brilliant, entirely original." Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World
"An Aussie author with a gleefully dark sense of humor and a gift for dialogue that is improvisational, but precise, Carey finds a wealth of material on the disputed boundary between art and commerce." Denver Post
"It's not just the story, which is a roller coaster, or the characters, each of whom is so memorable, but the sheer physicality of Carey's writing that makes Theft so good. Read it. You won't be disappointed." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[A] vivid and beautiful portrait of how art is actually made....Carey captures the tidal wash of an artist's narcissism...and the strange process by which all this becomes not just an object of art and expression but a commodity." Philadelphia Inquirer
"[U]nsettling and erratic....Some say there is no such thing as a new idea, but how much this one embodied in Theft is worth ultimately depends on your desire for truth, and the value you place on originality." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A]n interesting but uneven mix of novel and thesis....
"Freshly imagined, cunningly plotted, engagingly written, Theft is the kind of novel only an abundantly gifted artist, and one serious about his craft, could produce." San Jose Mercury News
"A complete, compelling and satisfying tale, Theft is made doubly rewarding by these fraternal narrators, who lend the novel a stunning degree of humanity and authenticity." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Carey tells this rollicking story in his trademark roller-coaster style, hurtling the reader forward in delirious, helter-skelter fashion while flaunting the degree to which he is making it all up on the fly." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"[T]he novel truly sings..." New York Times
"The strength of Theft lies in its narrative voice and in Carey's delight in his subject. The two-time Booker winner is clearly enjoying himself..." Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
Peter Carey is the author of nine novels, including the Booker Prize?winning Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. Born in Australia in 1943, he now lives in New York City.
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