A Love Story
By Peter Carey
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307263711, 272pp.
Publication Date: May 9, 2006
List Price: $24.00*
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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.
Peter Carey is the author of nine novels, including the Booker Prize–winning Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. Born in Australia in 1943, he now lives in New York City.
“In addition to historical, behavioral, and playful storytelling dimensions, there is an emphatically physical dimension of conflict to [Carey’s] work, conveyed not through words but in between them. The air in his novels can feel charged and changeable, thinning to ghostliness or thickening to sluggishness, as before a storm. Carey’s latest novel operates on all these levels, and a couple of new ones . . . . [Hugh’s] voice is studded with funny malapropisms, Joyce-inflected scat, and a low-grade hysteria that Carey humorously conveys . . . The most skillful effect in Theft is Carey’s complex weaving of [the brothers’] harsh emotional legacy into the grown men’s thoughts, behavior, and spasmodic jokes . . . On the surface Carey’s [prose] pulls us forward in an atmosphere of antic noir. But the book turns out to be nearly as dense with themes, subplots, and embedded details as a more capacious and ambitious work like Oscar and Lucinda . . . Impressive.”
–Sarah Kerr, New York Review of Books
“[A] brilliant fictional world . . . Opening a Peter Carey novel is a little like being seduced . . . There is never a pause or moment of hesitation in his writing, immediately absorbing you within his fictional constructs by the power of his narrative voices . . . This is dizzyingly poetic prose . . . [Theft] is a refreshing change from the dreary domesticity and realism of contemporary fiction . . . If you haven’t already, you might want to introduce yourself to Peter Carey. Theft is a virtuoso inauguration, not to mention a great first date.”
–Sharon Dilworth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“I can’t not read a book by Peter Carey . . . Carey is best known for his (wonderful) historical novels, but he’s in his glorious element when writing about the contemporary world, too . . . He’s a consummate storyteller with a wicked eye and a tremendous ventriloquist’s gift.”
–Claire Messud, The Atlantic Monthly
“Peter Carey’s funny, rumbustious new novel takes on the contemporary art world with the same scathing wit that characterized Tom Wolfe’s non-fiction evisceration of the lost, nihilistic post-1950s art scene in The Painted Word . . . Written with terrific verbal energy and a snide, lashing sense of humour, Theft is a marvellous caper, a wicked little love story and a fine mockery of an industry that probably deserves it.”
“Superbly rendered . . . Hugh’s voice enthralls . . . Style when projected by Carey’s characters is an existential muzzle-flash, alerting us to the shooter behind the light and noise . . . Theft is a work of art that successfully reflects upon the conditions in which art is created, [with a] pulsating, inimitably authentic, core.”
–Siddartha Deb, Telegraph
“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.”
–Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
“At once a love story, a tragedy, a comedy, a tragicomedy, and an artist’s journey . . . Carey manages to maintain a haunting balance . . . [He] certainly lives up to his reputation as a versatile post-colonial literary voice in his virtuosity and conscientiousness in conjuring worlds spanning Australia, Japan, and America . . . At the heart of Carey’s achievement is the profundity of isolation–the sacred, inviolable inscrutability of an individual’s subjectivity.”
–Amy Wong, Harvard Book Review
“Brilliant Peter Carey has written another marvelous novel . . . A hilarious romp, [a] mad caper of a story . . . Virtuoso . . . Theft is witty, urbane, funny and profound down to its last searing line.”
–Joan Mellen, Baltimore Sun
“[A] very funny new novel [with an] ingeniously worked-out art-fraud plot . . . Theft is the kind of novel only an abundantly gifted artist, and one serious about his craft, could produce. Carey proves once again that he’s about as good a novelist as we’ve got today.”
–Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News
“Complex, tense and captivating . . . An inventive thriller, [a] continent-jumping caper . . . Its alternating narrators, Michael and Hugh, are easily two of Carey’s most vibrant and memorable characters . . . Hilarious, pitch-perfect . . . A complete, compelling and satisfying tale, Theft is made doubly rewarding by [its] fraternal narrators, who lend the novel a stunning degree of humanity and authenticity.”
–Thomas Haley, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[Carey is a] brilliantly inventive writer . . . Hugh’s is the yawping, anguished voice of the id, a primal bundle of sensation, clarity and need. Carey’s genius speaks through Hugh . . . [Theft] is an authentic love story about two brothers who can’t stand themselves, and can’t live without each other.”
–Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times
“Peter Carey is an astonishing novelist . . . The plot of Theft is well-crafted and engaging, but the real strength of the novel is in its characterizations . . . It’s Carey’s genius that these two cranky misfits rule the day . . . A wild and satisfying ride.”
–Mary J. Elkins, Rocky Mountain News
“Uproarious . . . Theft is brilliantly constructed, and in Butcher and Hugh, Carey creates two narrators the reader cannot help but care about. No aspect of the art world and the rarified atmosphere of its collectors escapes Carey’s rapier wit, and the humor is non-stop . . . Carey has outdone himself with this novel, one of his best–a comic masterpiece.”
–Mary Whipple, MostlyFiction.com
“Remarkable . . . Carey likes these intricate, spangly plots, with their outrageous truancies from verisimilitude and their lizard-like velocity; he is one of the most fantastical storytellers in the language, and yet the stories are not unreal, and this is partly why readers can never decide who he is like: is it Dickens, or Joyce, or Kafka, or Faulkner, or Nabokov, or García Márquez, or Rushdie? Two of the realisms that ground these dense fantasies are Carey’s ability to animate even minor characters with a flick of novelistic attention, and his great interest in the warped reality of spoken language. One of the great familiar pleasures of his new novel is the way the language recklessly mixes different registers into a vivid democracy, now high and now low, but always interestingly rich . . . The great enricher of the novel is its second narrator, Hugh Boone[,] a Faulknerian monologist, who speaks a barbarous, spoiled poetry, sometimes weirdly funny and slangy and sometimes manically vatic and biblical, with frequent crescendos into capital letters . . . His riffs are moving, twisted, and sometimes sublime.”
–James Wood, London Review of Books
“Revelatory, inspired . . . A screwball noir tale . . . Carey is a loon from down under, a mad max who drives language and plot straight through the great barrier reef of the commonplace . . . Oftentimes writers known for their derring-do with language are better admired than read . . . Carey in contrast wants his readers to join him in a good laugh right now . . . Carey’s language is so lively, so unaffected that the big ideas here slip in under cover of a joke. In this divine comedy of a novel, Carey gives his readers a rollicking lark of a story as well as a sense of eternity in a grain of sand.”
–Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air/NPR
“Meticulously convincing . . . Certainly the most intricately plotted and the most sheerly entertaining novel about a painter I’ve ever read . . . You have to read the book to savour all the sheer wickedness and cut-throat cunning of the international modern art world and the final pages are exquisitely startling . . . I haven’t read such authoritative writing on art forgery and art fraud since William Gaddis’s masterpiece, The Recognitions. Nor have I read so affecting an account of the life of two brothers, one of whom is deemed by the rest of the world to be soft in the head, since Patrick White’s The Solid Mandala . . . Carey’s jaundiced eye on the contemporary art scene is wonderfully and destructively satirical and the humour robust and farcical but never crude. It would be entirely unsurprising if Carey becomes the first ever triple Booker, or Man-Booker, winner.”
–Tom Rosenthal, Independent on Sunday
“The brilliantly restless [Carey] has rebelled, grown in confidence, and rebelled again . . . Radical independence is profoundly present in this novel . . . As a love story, Theft is remarkably disabused . . . The ending is wonderfully executed.”
–Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement
“In a word, superb . . . Carey is a master of voice, and he puts his expertise to good use again in his latest book . . . He is absolutely breathtaking when writing in Hugh’s changeable, lyrical and often hilarious voice . . . 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.”
–Nancy Connors, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Marvellously enjoyable, wonderful . . . [Carey] has once more written the real thing. [Hugh’s] language is extraordinary . . . The writing is full of sumptuous painterly effects . . . There is a flow of comic incident as the story withholds what it shows and winds around itself under the author’s blissful control. Readers can gratefully share both [Carey’s] high seriousness and his exhilaration.”
–Tom Deveson, The Sunday Times (UK)
“A tale that falls somewhere between The Da Vinci Code and Of Mice and Men . . . Carey indulge[s] all his brilliant ventriloquism, creating a voice quite as vivid as the mesmerizing first person of Ned Kelly in the Booker-winning True History of the Kelly Gang.”
–Tim Adams, The Observer (UK)
“Magnificent . . . Some of the most passionate and electrified prose Carey has ever committed to paper . . . A new Peter Carey novel is cause for joy [and] this [is] Carey’s funniest novel by far . . . There is no better writer of voice working today . . . Carey would certainly be Australia’s second literature Nobel laureate if the prize didn’t seem to reward obscure ponderousness at least as often as true excellence . . . Theft is a novel that will get right up your nose. Carey has produced a humane, gloriously Australian book of grand passion, bad breath and high mischief. It is a rudely brilliant, infuriatingly beautiful, belligerently profane work of art.”
–Patrick Ness, The Guardian
“[Hugh] is a magnificent creation, from the same family of lovable golems as Bob McCorkle in Carey’s previous novel, My Life as a Fake. His lightly punctuated ravings have the ingenuous poetry of the bandit narrator’s voice in the novel before that, True History of the Kelly Gang . . . [Theft] executes the plot conscientiously and cleverly . . . The two brothers, one a genius and the other a simpleton, generate in their streams of utterance a kindred prose, hectic and shambling and given to splashes of Biblical echo and pithy colloquialisms . . . The DNA weave of fraternal kinship is cunningly, affectionately worked . . . Peter Carey is a superb writer, whose prose is always active, and who infuses his characters, however eccentric, with a warmth that lets them live in our minds.”
–John Updike, The New Yorker
“Utterly absorbing . . . Carey’s book is afire with passion, both love and loathing . . . [A] subtle accumulation of clues turns Theft from a love story into a thriller . . . The novel itself is richly ornamented with the tradecraft both of artist and art forger . . . Carey artfully constructs and forcefully delivers [the climax].”
–Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Haunting . . . Carey is a choral group; from novel to novel he soars or plunges from voice to voice, each with its differently piercing note and, for commonality, just a hint of disconcert . . . In Theft Carey has loosed several different voices at once. Each is full-throated and vividly conceived . . . Enticing, arresting.”
–Richard Eder, Boston Globe
“Spot-on . . . When the focus is on art, the prose becomes beautiful and light . . . Butcher is then breathtakingly passionate.”
–Christine Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle
“Sharply observed, well written, and acerbically witty, this book will only further Carey’s reputation.”
“A funny, gorgeous steal of a book . . . Imagine a cheerful Faulkner, or an even earthier Nabokov. Not possible? Peter Carey is the embodiment of what seems such a literary impossibility, and a writer like no one else in the merry infectiousness, the persuasive relentlessness of his literary energy. In Theft: A Love Story here it is again, ‘the human voice once more in uproar,’ lyrical and foul, biblical and crude, in the now trademark Carey fusion of expertise and wonderful blaggery . . . In the end, it tells an old story, the one where money can’t buy you love, where guile itself is an art, and where art is the ‘limitation of the materials’ plus ‘the true wonder of bloody everything, no less.’ In other words, it is a magic, near-impossible combination–and one that Carey, in another incredible meld of mess and discipline, bombast and quietness, has pulled off and run away with one more time.”
–Ali Smith, Sunday Telegraph
“The best novel I’ve read all year . . . A stinging satire on the seedy intrigues, craven maneuverings and greedy machinations of the art world . . . Written from the competing and often contradictory points of view of the two brothers, each as implausibly awful, as wondrously comic and as faultlessly drawn as the other, you can only wonder at the bravura of the writing and at the dazzling control Carey exercises over his material. This is a riotous, splenetic fantasy of a novel, hard-driven by Carey’s scintillating command of language, a black caper about the power of love and art to redeem . . . Theft’s raging, chewy celebration of life and language, its muscularity and moments of heart-dissolving tenderness are reasons enough to read on, and read again.”
–Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard
“Impressive, taut . . . The voices of the Boone brothers leap off the page with their originality . . . Hugh’s voice reveals itself as an extraordinary, comic and lucid second narrative . . . The two main speakers are brilliantly drawn.”
–Sophie Ratcliffe, The Times (London)
“Devilishly clever . . . Features some of Carey’s best writing to date . . . Carey provides a vivid and beautiful portrait of how art is actually made–and how its vibrations are felt . . . Powerful.”
–John Freeman, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Full of compelling insights couched in fresh, sparkling prose, the aptly titled Theft makes the right moves at the right time. It’s the rare novelistic gem that deserves to crack the divide between commercial success and critical acclaim.”
–Peter Wolfe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A tale of fame, infatuation and murder, thrillingly rendered in the feisty and fearless prose for which Carey is renowned.”
–Hephzibah Anderson, Bloomberg
“Carey’s new novel [is] as wily and diverting as the ones before . . . A hard-boiled detective story of sorts, complete with an ingenious conspiracy and a ravishingly deceitful femme fatale . . . The particular treasures offered by Theft are the novel's window into the crass, Byzantine workings of the art market and Michael's semidemonic, but palpably authentic, artistic passion. There are lots of novels that rhapsodize about great paintings, but this one makes you feel the tactile, unprettyfied glory of painting . . . The prose almost throbs. [Carey] does this very hard thing–conveying the genius of one art form in another–so masterfully.”
–Laura Miller, Salon
“Magnificent . . . Given his devious trajectory, a novel about modern art seems like an inevitable destination for Carey. Could there be any more irresisitible house of mirrors for an author fascinated by deceit and subterfuge? . . . Hypnotically brilliant, entirely original.”
–Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World
"The serpentine plot is a brain-squeezing beauty, cunningly elaborated ... But it's the author's mastery of details of artists' lives and the racy energy of his prose that make this edgy, irreverent, often hilariously profane novel soar. In some ways a successor to Carey's impudent picaresque Illywhacker, it's a certifiable hoot. Is the endlessly inventive Carey on the Nobel shortlist? He ought to be."
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Two-time Booker-winner Carey returns with a magnificent high-stakes art heist wrapped around a fraternal saga . . . 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."
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Carey creates a whole new world in each novel, and nearly a new language, so fresh and transfixing are the voices of his narrators . . . He 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)