Theft: A Love Story Paperback – May 8 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Twice a Booker Prize winner, Carey creates a whole new world in each novel, and nearly a new language, so fresh and transfixing are the voices of his narrators. And yet he has his signal preoccupations, primary among them a fascination with the demonic side of creativity and questions of authenticity and fakery, concerns that come to the fore in this barbed, intriguing art caper. Michael Boone, known in his small Australian hometown of Bacchus Marsh as Butcher in acknowledgment of his father's trade, surpassed expectations and became a famous painter until he landed in prison. Just out, he's working feverishly, determined not to be distracted by Hugh, his somewhat frightening brother, or sexy, enigmatic Marlene. Hugh--a big, blustering, bumbling, and passionate fellow not quite right in the head yet plenty intelligent in his own way (he and Butcher alternate as narrators)--is his brother's albatross, and, perhaps, saving grace. Marlene turns out to be a cutthroat mastermind who gets the three of them into all kinds of complicated trouble. 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. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Mr. Carey tells his story from the alternating viewpoints of Butcher and his brother Hugh in language that is dense, accurate and often beautiful beyond description. Anyone who has ever ridden in a New York cab will recognize this truth: "The taxis in New York are a total nightmare. I don't know how anybody tolerates them, and I am not complaining about the eviscerated seats, the s----- shock absorbers, the suicidal lefthand turns, but rather the common faith of all those Malaysian Sikhs, Bengali Hindus, Harlem Muslims, Lebanese Christians, Coney Island Russians, Brooklyn Jews, Buddhists, Zarathustrians-- who knows what?--all of them with rock-solid conviction that if you honk your bloody horn the sea will part before you." (p. 194.)Australian petty law enforcement types are described as "midgets of officialdom" who swarm "like a white-ant hatch." Finally Mr. Carey through the voice of Michael, piles paragraph upon paragraph, much as the artist applies layers of paint on his canvases, of beautiful descriptions of Marlene, often in terms of color as you would expect from a painter: "Her eyes. They were what is called baby blue, that is the precise colour of a baby's eyes before the melanin arrives and here was a pleasure even greater than her taut young skin, a clear view of her naked soul-- a deep kind of transparency without a single speck or flaw or smut."
Mr. Carey is one of a handful of writers whose next novel I eagerly await. To read him is to experience the sheer joy of language. After the horrific events of 9/11, Mr. Carey, who now lives in New York City, wrote an eloquent essay about both that city and the U. S. Can't we just claim him as one of our own?
Butcher, recently released from prison after trying to steal back his own paintings, which were declared "marital assets" during a nasty divorce, is now living in northern New South Wales, as caretaker for the property of his biggest collector. He is also the full-time caretaker of his brother, "Hugh the Poet and Hugh the Murderer, Hugh the Idiot Savant."
When Butcher rescues Marlene Leibovitz from her partially submerged car during a flood, the "chance" meeting has long-range consequences. Marlene is the wife of Olivier Leibovitz, son of Jacques Leibovitz, a world-class artist whose paintings are nearly priceless. She has the power to authenticate Leibovitz paintings (the "droit moral") and effectively controls the Liebovitz market as undocumented paintings surface. She has arrived to document the "Leibovitz" belonging to Butcher's next door neighbor, a painting which promptly disappears.
The involvement of Butcher in a complex scheme to defraud is told in alternating chapters by Butcher and Hugh, whose limited "take" on the characters and action leads to hilarious commentary, which is often more astute and realistic than that of his brother. Butcher, devoted to his artwork, and eventually to Marlene, is a brawling innocent, totally over his head in the international art circles in which he moves in Tokyo and New York, following a sellout show of his work arranged by Marlene. Butcher's narrative reveals his obvious ignorance of the details of the Leibovitz art fraud, increasing the irony and humor and developing suspense about Marlene's intentions.
When the increased financial stakes lead to murder, the complexity of the art fraud is revealed to the reader--and to Butcher. The final chapter, almost an Afterword, gives new meaning to the word "irony." Theft is brilliantly constructed, and in Butcher and Hugh, Carey creates two characters the reader cares about. The art world and its rarified atmosphere are subjected to Carey's rapier wit, and the humor and satire are non-stop. Well known for his word play and sense of the absurd, Carey has outdone himself with this novel, a continuation of the themes he began in My Life as a Fake--and a new comic masterpiece. n Mary Whipple
Recently released from prison where he was sent for trying to steal his own paintings from his ex-wife (and here is where the alimony whore comes in) he is installed in a country house by his 'sponsor' and begins to make some of the best art of his life. Across huge canvasses he splashes fire and brimstone texts remembered from his violent and abusive childhood, the full scale of which only gradually becomes apparent.
And then one stormy night there walks into his life (in her Manolo Blahniks - important detail) a beautiful young woman who claims to have lost her way. Marlene is the wife of Oliver Leibovitz, son of one of the greatest artists of the century. She's also an accomplised art thief and con-woman. Both brothers fall in love with her ... which fits into her plans just nicely. And thus begins a rollicking tale of art theft and deception which moves from Australia to New York via Tokyo.
Love-story, thriller, comedy ... the novel is all of these. But the greatest strength of the novel is the depiction of the complicated love-hate relationship between the brothers. The interplay of voices is excellent, and the way the two accounts give sometimes contradictory views of events, the "truth" of things falling somewhere between them. Hugh may not be the full shilling, but he is certainly astute and in many ways sees the world more clearly than his brother. I love the way his talk is peppered with phrases picked up from everyone else and is full of malapropisms.
The research for the book seems authoratitive - I knew little beforehand about how the art world works, or how artists feel about their work becoming an item of commerce, or how painting might be forged ... and certainly now I feel interested to learn more.
I love the energy and drive of the writing. One reviewer described the prose as "muscular" and I like that. But the language has a rugged poetry too, particularly during when describing the artist working. We can see the finished canvases and know why they are so brilliant, through the words.
Theft reminds me of a couple of other novels I've enjoyed: Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (the episode of the dead puppy, Hugh's capacity for sudden violence and the murder at the end - I'm certain this is a reference Carey means us to pick up!), and Headlong by Michael Frayn (also about shady dealings in the art world and very funny). And then of course Carey's there are echoes earlier novels, particularly My Life as a Fake which also tackled the theme of forgery, and True History of the Kelly Gang in the way that Carey recreates the voice of Ned Kelly so brilliantly. And there's Carey's siding all the way with the rascal, the fraudster, the thief, and making us love him too.
I personally preferred The Kelly Gang, but this is an excellent book that is well researched and written. My only quibble is that they are more likely to play rugby (First XIII (League) or XV (Union)) than Australian Rules Football (First XVIII) in Bellingen.
"My Life as a Fake" didn't soar as one might have wished - in part because Carey sometimes bogged down in the complexities of an overly laden plot, and in part because it was hard for the reader (at least this reader) to share his fascination with the repercussions of the Ern Malley episode on Australian literature. In "Theft", he is far more sure-footed, and though the plot is also quite convoluted, he develops the story in a compulsively readable fashion. The reader is swept along by the story, the brilliantly drawn, idiosyncratic characters, and by Carey's wonderful language right up to the jarring (and absolutely brilliant) conclusion.
The book reminded me of the recent film bombon (I mean that as a compliment), the wonderful "Duplicity", with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, which also kept the viewer guessing throughout, but which the director and actors pulled off with tremendous style and humor. It was hugely entertaining, without ever condescending to the viewer.
"Theft" has that same lighthearted verve, and Carey's terrific writing and obvious love of language made it a joy to read. On the cover blurb of my copy, Ali Smith calls it "a funny, gorgeous steal of a book", and I agree completely.