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.)
"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
"[T]he novel truly sings..." New York Times
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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)
"[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
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
Ferocious and funny, penetrating and exuberant, two-time Booker Prize-winner Carey explores the themes of art, fraud, and redemption and the things people will do for art, for love, . . . and for money.
Michael "Butcher" Boone is an ex-“really famous" painter, now reduced to living in a remote country house and acting as caretaker for his younger brother, Hugh. Alone together they've forged a delicate equilibrium, a balance instantly destroyed when a mysterious young woman named Marlene walks out of a rainstorm and into their lives. Beautiful, smart, and ambitious, she's also the daughter-in-law of the late great painter Jacques Liebovitz. Soon Marlene sets in motion a chain of events that could be the making--or the ruin--of them all.
About the Author
Peter Carey is the author of nine novels, including the Booker Prizewinning Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. Born in Australia in 1943, he now lives in New York City.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why does Peter Carey use two narrators in Theft
? How do Michael and his brother Hugh regard each other? Is one a more trustworthy narrator than the other? What effects does Carey achieve though this bifurcated perspective?
2. How do the two epigraphs that precede Theft illuminate the story? In what ways does Michael wish to be “a king” and to do just as he pleases “in all circumstances”? Is Hugh right in declaring that “My brother had been a King but now he was a Pig, eviscerated” [p. 265]?
3. The artist Milton Hesse tells Marlene that “the only secret in art is that there is no secret. Nor should she imagine that there is a hidden strategy. Forget about it. Real artists dont have strategy” [p.138]. What conventional views of the artist does this assertion contradict? Might this way of thinking about art apply to novels as well? Is Theft itself free of a “hidden strategy”?
4. Hugh says of his brother: “The artist is always for himself alone, allegedly a MONK, a PRIEST or KING, in spite of which assertion he was always seeking a woman who would let him lie with his BUG IRISH face between her breasts” [p. 89]. Is this a fair assessment of Michael? To what degree does he fit the type of the narcissistic, needy, and self-inflated artist?
5. What does Theft suggest about the ambitions and motives of artists, dealers, collectors, critics, and curators? Does Theft present a cynical or merely realistic view of the art world?
6. Michael and Hugh have very distinctive narrative voices. What are the most striking qualities of those voices? How are they like and unlike each other? What pleasures do they offer that cannot be found in novels where the narrator is more distant and reserved?
7. In what ways does Marlene manipulate Michael in order to pull off her various crimes? Why does he allow himself to be manipulated?
8. Both Michael and Hugh address the reader directly, for example when Michael says “I will not bore you with the surgical operation needed to remove those threads” [p. 115]. Who is the presumed reader of this book? In what ways are Michael and Hugh trying to persuade the reader, and of what?
9. In what ways does Carey explore the themes of deception, dishonesty, fakery, and forgery in Theft?
10. How does Michels background, coming from a family of butchers from Bacchus Marsh, affect his relationship to his own painting and to the pretensions of the art world? How does his way of working, his attitude toward painting, his passion for paint and canvas, the materials of art, defy the conventional image of the artist?
11. Theft is subtitled “A Love Story.” What does the novel suggest about love-romantic love, self-love, brotherly love?
12. The novel ends with Michaels questions: “Is she taunting me or missing me? How will I ever know? How do you know how much to pay if you dont know what its worth?” [p. 269]. How should Michaels final question be read? What is he referring to? What is Marlenes likely motive for continuing to arrange shows for Michaels work?
13. In an interview, Carey says that “to produce tensions which push the language into somewhere new, youre stretching all the time for the thing thats true and broken and strange. Like de Kooning and Rothko.” [QWeekend (Australia), April 1, 2006]. In what ways does Carey push the language in Theft to somewhere new? How is Theft similar to what Rothko and de Kooning attempted in their art?