Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Stolen Heart

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?

33 comments:

sympozium said...

Enjoying Yiyun Li's anthology.

But can you help me out by explaining why Carey, in all the Slow Bones chapters, USES a lot of INEXPLICABLE caps? It MAKES no sense TO ME AT all and is ANNOYING after a WHILE...the words he was trying to emphasise didn't seem to FIT the NEED FOR emphasis...

sympozium said...

And I'm NOT TAKING the piss HERE but really really CURIOUS...

Sufian said...

This past week I've finished Craig Clevenger - The Contortionist Handbook, a book for Pahlaniuk Fan, definitely. Your Etger Keret Book drove me to buy both of Keret's collection of short story (from AcmaMall, 20% off!), How Israel Lost by Michael Ben Cramer (bla-bla politics), A book about Magnum (the Photo Agency, not the 4D), Robert Capa's memoir (Slightly out of Focus), The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer's meditation on photographs and Photographer.

Unfortunately, yesterday I ordered (from AcmaMall) two books on photography (Shutterbabe and The Bang-Bang Club, both memoir of photojournalists)

And just now I finally bought the new translation of Orhan's The Black Book.

:(

bibliobibuli said...

sympozium - i can HEAR those capital letters when hugh speaks, they are often the phrases and expressions picked up from other people - usually his parents. he is like a parrot, regurgitating snippets from this person and that. and it's so clever that through him, we get to hear their voices. i also think those words may originally have been shouted at him, certainly strongly emphasised, and probably drummed into him. another reason - the reader knows immediately it is hugh, not michael speaking, so it gets carey over a problem. it didn't annoy me.

sufian - wow. you're really getting into the photography. i have a biography of robert capa - i think. will check it out. jealous of the keret book and now have to buy too.

and have just started my first orhan pamuk = "snow"

Greenbottle said...

from atria sales.
finished carlos maria dominguez's 'house of paper', half way through non fiction/memoir "phra Farang: an english monk in thailand" and now deeply into "ali and nino" by 'kurban said'...described by Paul theroux in the introduction as a novel that is considered by Azerbaijanis as their 'national novel'

Sufian said...

Sharon,

since you like Keret, you might want to give George Saunders a try.

Here's a sampler:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,,1826279,00.html

p.s. I'm bankrupting myself with photography books. And I don'e even have a camera. Ha.

Anonymous said...

it's strange that you're a brit and you're here in malaysia. but to make you feel like you really fit in... watch this show on 8tv at 10:30 pm. there's a brit guy in it too. he's here in malaysia too. he tries to sing once in a while, but not to sure if he really can sing. maybe you can help us judge. are you ready to belong?

love you. one world. one country. one universe. 8tv. 10:30 pm. thursday. gambatte!

bibliobibuli said...

am intrigued and will try to remember to watch.

strange i'm a brit in malaysia? there's a lot of us here, many have been here a lot longer than me. and you wouldn't find it strange to find folks of other nationalities who have made their homes here, would you? or to find malaysians who've done the reverse and have lived most of their lives in britain?

as for belonging ... i have gazillions of in-laws here, i eat durian, i can make a mean sambal belachan, i've even got used to drinking "air sirap" (which most mat salleh's find very hard to come to terms with).

i belong. as much as an immigrant ever belongs.

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - those sound really intersting reads. incidentally it might be time to go back to atria as big bookshops are unpacking more boxes in the next few days so the stock should be different.

sufian - will check this guy out. many thanks.

sympozium said...

Ahhh...thanks, that makes sense...I must reread My Life As A Fake again - that was a good novel...

No more Atria!!!! (but even as I type these words I know I'll give in and go - perhaps even today!)

Have a good Sunday.

sympozium said...

Actually...Theft deserved the Booker more than that awful Inheritance of Loss...

bibliobibuli said...

agree entirely sympozium. that thesft deserved the booker more than kiran desai's novel. i did enjoy inheritance of loss very much and would still defend it. but carey's novel has wings! my favourite novel so far this year.

as for "my life as a fake" ... i must blog about that book another day. it got really up my nose because the malaysian chapters had so much that was inaccurate in them.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Now where have I heard that story before ? oh right in a thousand other books, movies, radio plays... :P

bibliobibuli said...

of course. why bother with books at all since you are so brilliant you already know what happens in them?

sympozium said...

Which ancient Greek said that there are only 7 stories in the world? It's not the stories but how one tells them.

Finished A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Superb, but that interview with her at the back of the book, what she revealed about the woman and her kidneys...Barbaric! China still has a looooong way to crawl out from the Dark Ages.
I need a drink.

bibliobibuli said...

ahah ... but i bet he didn't feature manolo blahniks in 'em

Burhan said...

Yiyun Li was great. I emailed her after reading "A Thousand Years" and she replied!

Is "Theft" the best book to start with reading Peter Carey's work? My brother has a lot of his books so I could begin on them.

bibliobibuli said...

i emailed her too and so did eric, and we both got replies!

"theft" would be a very good one to begin with. i think "oscar and lucinda" is wonderful but not quite such easy going. my favourite is "true history of the kelly gang". loved "illywacker" too and "jack maggs". haven't read the earlier books yet, though i have them sitting in to-be-read limbo.

Lotus Reads said...

Sharon, this book does sound good! It's been a while since I read something that had me so invested that I didn't feel like picking up another book for a few days. Perhaps I should give "Theft" a whirl. Thanks so much for another brilliant review!

I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's "The Penelopiad", it was so entertaining - she's such a clever writer!

bibliobibuli said...

i love her, lotus. and desperately want her new collection of stories. wish she'd slow down though - she's costing me a fortune and i have many of her earlier books still to read.

Anonymous said...

Bib : I don't know what is in ALL stories, just the unoriginal ones. Think about it, stories like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan etc., how many "copies" are there ? how many similar stories ? not one. It's not impossible to be original, it's just that everyone seems to be in it for the money these days.

And yes, there have been people from other countries here for ages. One of my English teachers in school was a caucasian American. And that was a government school too. He used to enjoy seeing the reaction on the satay vendors' faces when he picked up the peanut sauce (you know, the spicy one that comes with satay) and drank it down :)

About "A Thousand Years", I suspect a story about a successful and prosperous China would not sell very well in the US. Anyway, I think it's just based in China, it's fiction.

Blog should be up once the DNS propagates and all the mail is correctly routed. But then there's still some coding to do.

Greenbottle said...

i read an extract of Yiyun's a thousand years…in the guardian and i couldn't go past the second paragraph... it's just me, so don't anybody get worked up...i sure tried, a few times in fact but still I couldn’t… to me, her writing is well, i don't mean to be rude or chauvinistic but it feels so er 'woman -ish'...and i hate 'woman -ish' writing...i'm surprised that she has won so many awards...well, goes to show how stupid i am... i'm missing something somewhere...

Jordan said...

Just finished rereading a collection of Alistair MacLeod's short stories, As Birds Bring Forth the Sun. Great stuff.

qaminante said...

Oh heck, yet more stuff to add to my reading list!! I have been struggling with Orhan Pamuk's "The New Life", I really liked "My Name is Red" and his memoirs of Istanbul, but not "The Black Book". I have now laid it aside temporarily for the sequel to Lian Hearn's wonderful Otori trilogy, next on the list is the Kiran Desai which I bought before it won the Booker. So many books, so little time!

Sufian said...

Qaminante,

The New Life is claw-eyes-out-and-eat-them-boring (but the first line is brilliant). Took me a year to finish. The Black Book OTOH, is as good as My Name is Red (the new translation, I've yet to read the old translation).

Maybe you want to try The White Castle (Orhan's book, not the fast food)?

Jordan said...

I read Pamuk's Snow, but I found it really tedious. I guess a lot of what it was supposed to feel like was lost in translation.

bibliobibuli said...

jordan - three chapters in ... the prose does seem very heavy. more like a C19th russian classic than a contemporary novel. nothing sings. but i'm interested in the basic premise - why are these women really committing suicide.

sympozium said...

Couldn't finish My Name is Red...

Greenbottle - I hate 'womanish' writing as well but strangely Li's stories were good. Perhaps it was the fact that they were short stories. If they have been novels then I'd have gotten irritated as well...

Burhan said...

"The New Life" is, to me, a masterpiece and my favorite of Pamuk's works (by the way, his lecture is already up on the Nobel prize website). The first few pages contain such complex ideas, all written in a hypnotic and rhythmic style. I can only compare it to the first few pages of Proust's 'Swann's Way'. You feel as if they could go on analyzing, describing and forever relishing a single sensation -- for Proust, the sensation of falling asleep, and for Pamuk, the sensation of revelation -- milking out its sweet honey.

The first time I read those first few pages I said to myself 'this must be a metaphor for Prophet Muhammad's first wahyu, or it must signify the exalted feeling of first reading a holy scripture or any great work of literature'; but of course there could many many ways to interpret it.

As for the parts about the author's meanderings across Turkey in buses, that chapter was so delicious I purposely read it very very slowly. It took me more than two weeks for that.

Subashini said...

i read the white castle and really enjoyed it, although it was a few years ago and i want to reread it to see how it feels now. i've also been meaning to read some of his other works, especially snow and my name is red. i have a turkish friend who can't bear to hear of him mentioned, though, so that makes him a lot more interesting...

i read his nobel acceptance speech, and was incredibly moved by it.

thanks to the peter carey love going on around here, i have a few recommendations to start with. he's one of those who has always been on my "to read" list and i just never got around to him; now i just might have to! i've always wanted to start with my life as a fake because it's partially set in malaysia, if i'm not mistaken, and it's interesting that others have noticed inaccuracies and such. it sounds fairly intriguing.

in the meantime, life has been hectic and work is so poopy and stressful that i've been craving some comfort reading; which, right now, means devoting myself solely to my old, decaying agatha christie paperbacks. so satisfying!

Spot said...

Have been on an Iran binge.

Finished both volumes of Persepolis and in the middle of Reading Lolita in Teheran".

Started the latter first, but having finished the former in the meantime, my appreciation of the latter has been much enhanced.

Namra said...

Hmmm...why does that cover reminds me so much of Wilayah Kutu?

Coincidence or does returns for authors nowadays had dwindled so much they had to resort to stock images?

And why am I asking questions like a Finas board thriving on the cover rather than the content? Ho ho ho ho.

bibliobibuli said...

you may well like this book, namra.

maybe it's just great minds thinking alike or maybe the publishers searched the web until they came to the neohikayat site and then said - ahah that's the sort of cover we need for carey's book ...