Tuesday, March 06, 2007

#17 - Theft: A Love Story

Peter Carey's magnificent Theft: A Love Story is the Australian entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. Set in the early 80s, the novel tells the story from the perspective of two brothers, Michael and Hugh Boone, who each swap the narrative point of view back and forth like thunder and lightning.

Michael "Butcher Bones," an infamous artist who is both in and out of favour, is on the edge of his own sanity throughout most of the novel. Defeated by an acrimonious divorce, he falls in love with Marlene, a mystery woman who turns out to be the daughter-in-law of a famous artist, Jacques Leibovitz. The master is long dead, and the central theft of the novel's title revolves around one of Leibovitz's paintings going missing from northern New South Wales where Butcher and Hugh are staying.

Hugh, or "Slow Bones" as he's called, piledrives his way through the novel breaking baby fingers and using capital letters. Always in his older brother's care, Hugh provides a dissenting voice in the book, at once within the narrative but decidedly outside most of the story. Not unlike Benjy from The Sound and the Fury, Hugh's most poignant moments are when he's storming around New York City noting the inherent differences between it and Bacchus Marsh in Australia where he was born.

Before I even picked up this novel, so much of what I had heard about Carey's book revolved around the explosive portrayal of his ex-wife, Alison Summers. For a moment, that turned me off, a literary revenge, despite how enduring, grows tired after a while. Thankfully, the love story of the novel's title doesn't refer to the Plaintiff, as Butcher's ex-wife is referred to, but to Marlene, the younger, Australian-bred, New York living lover he picks up part way through the novel.

Through her courtship to Leibovitz's son, Olivier, and subsequent marriage, Marlene has developed quite an eye for art. She exploits her connections and broadens Butcher's own horizons, as the novel moves from rural Australia to Japan, where he has a show. From Japan, they're in New York, and when the penultimate moment of the novel arrives, Hugh and Michael make their way back to Australia.

Like a bucket of cold water dropped on your head on a hot day, Theft shocks you into submission with its bold, slashing strokes of brilliant prose that belt out the story. The novel burns on the way down just like the whiskey that seems to be Butcher's constant companion. One part mystery, one part obsessive love story and two parts good, old-fashioned yarn, I can't begin to tell you how hard I fell for this book. If I were indoctrinating new titles into the 1001 Books list, this one would be at the top of my list.


metro mama said...

I liked this too:


Sandra said...

I like this story too. Good review.

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