Theft: A Love Story Paperback – 4 Jan 2007
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"'A funny, gorgeous steal of a book.' Ali Smith, Sunday Telegraph 'It is a rudely brilliant, infuriatingly beautiful, belligerently profane work of art.' Patrick Ness, Guardian 'The best novel I've read all year.' Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard"
A novel of brotherly love and loathing from twice winner of the Booker Prize --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Audio CD.See all Product description
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How often do you find yourself multiply re-reading sentences, phrases, even pages- not for the sake of understanding it, but out of sheer joy of re-enjoying the just-read phrases, sentences and pages. Not all too often, I would think. Peter Carey's writing is so exuberantly enjoyable, that there is actually no way avoiding multiple re-reading, enjoying the prose melt on your tongue. Scenes, sentences, phrases, which I just wanted to read to my friends, but where to start, each and every page is just full of excerpts you want to share with others.
"Theft: A Love Story" is the tale of two brothers, one of them a previously well known painter, now taking care of his art dealer's offbeat located home, also taking care of his huge and "slow" brother Hugh. It's a tale of love too, of brotherly love- they just don't seem to be able to live with each other, but obviously can't live without each other either. The story is told in turn (chapterwise) by the two brothers, and although both are rather huffy, grumpy characters (brothers all the way), who both really seem to have a ball verbally whacking each other, it is, due to master ventriloquist Peter Carey's intriguing prose, easy to recognize, whose narrative we are reading at that moment. Of course, the "Love Story" mentioned as un undertitle is the love story of Marlene (who walks into the lives of Michael and Hugh one rainy night, starting off the story there) and Michael. "Theft" is also a story of an art fraud, of mischief, even of murder, but never (at least I don't recall) have frauds and thieves been more overtly likeable than Peter Carey's characters in this novel.
"Theft: A Love Story" is sheer enjoyment, a literary masterpiece, a gem of a novel. One of the novels, which leaves you (though sad- for having finished reading it) with a big big smile, happy for having been fortunate to have read this book.
One day, a stranger from the city turns up to value a painting owned by a neighbouring farmer. This stranger just happens to be an attractive female called Marlene, who with her contacts in the art world, and Butcher's talent proceeds to set in motion a convoluted chain of events involving art fraud, deception, and - potentially - love.
The story is told in alternating chapters by Butcher and Hugh (also known as Slow) Bones. Hugh is a great character - much easier to like than the artist - and Hugh's chapters add much needed humour to the story. His chapters let slip how he deliberately and inadvertently helps and hinders all the plans concocted by Marlene and Butcher. Despite the fact that Hugh often makes life difficult, there are still some touching moments between the two brothers which adds an extra dimension to the story. As love stories go, it's not a patch on 'Oscar and Lucinda', but it's an entertaining diversion, all the same.
Carey always seems much more assured when his work has an Australian setting, although here it is shared with Tokyo and Manhattan. His period, the 1980s, is just before the real world had become truly global in contrast to the worldwide process of purchasing and selling fine art.
Mihael, once able to sell his canvases for significant amounts, but now approaching middle age and an alcoholic leaves Australia for the US with Hugh and Marlene his American lover, an ambitious art expert. She is married to the son of the famous Modernist artist Jacques Leibovitz, who was his greatest influence. Marlene is widely recognised for her ability to authenticate her father-in-law’s paintings. A famous Leibovitz painting, ‘Monsieur et Madame Tourenbois’, has been stolen from a neighbour and the Art Police believe Michael to be involved since he had already served a prison sentence for robbing his ex-wife of some his own works awarded as part of their bitter divorce settlement.
As a consequence, instead of receiving the Order of Australia, Michael has lost his home and studio, and access to his eight-year-old son. Much of his anger is directed towards his ex-wife and his patron, the proprietor of a chain of nursing homes and lecturer on topics such as ‘Surgically Removing the Assets of the Elderly’. To add insult to injury, he offers Michael a job taking care of his home and purpose-built studio in order to look after his brother, resume his painting and reduce his debts.
The intertwining narratives, presented in alternating chapters, allow incidents to be seen from the two brothers’ perspectives but occasionally concentration is needed to know which brother is speaking. Hugh is reminiscent of Lennie in Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ but, as the book progresses, the reader begins to wonder which brother is looking after which.
The brothers’ backstories in Bacchus Marsh, New South Wales, are dominated by their sadistic father’s ‘threats of whippings with razor strops, electric flex, greenhide belts, he had that mouth, cruel as a cut across his skin.’ Their mother’s life was very different [‘ (On) Sunday: you must not work, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. Poor Mum.’]
The voices of the two brothers are generally distinct, Hugh’s somewhat halting and restrained, Michael’s full of volcanic spleen. The former’s narrative in particular is one of the pleasures of the book, each word produced under pressure and with obvious difficulty.
There are many references in this story that will be more obvious to an Australian reader and the detailed descriptions of preparing canvases and colours are fascinating for the non-painter. Marlene, an arch manipulator, involves both brothers in her illegal plans and is by far the strongest of the three main characters.
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