Finished Peter Carey's Theft: A Love Story a few days ago and enjoyed it so much that I haven't been able to pick up another book for days. I'm sort of moping about in the wake of it, hoping to get my appetite back.
The story is told in alternating chapters by two brothers - renown artist Michael Boone (aka 'Butcher Bones') and his idiot-savante brother, Hugh ('Slow Bones').
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 accomplished 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 bumped into my friend Mercy in Bangsar Village, Friday, and she'd just finished reading it too, and we were sitting there over coffee at Bakerzine laughing out loud at the cleverness of the book and saying I loved the part where ... and Did you notice ...? and laughing all over again.
Love it! I blow Carey a kiss!
You can read the first chapter here to see if the novel is one you'd enjoy. If it raises a smile, go out and buy a copy.
Meanwhile - what have you been reading? Any good?