three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
By: 
Peter Carey
user_rating: 
0

A Love Story

A-TheftAustralian painter Michael "Butcher" Boone’s artistic reputation is in deep decline. Released from jail to his largest collector’s farm, he struggles to reestablish his relevance while tending to his idiot savant brother Hugh. Everything changes when Marlene, the daughter-in-law of a renowned contemporary of Picasso, chances upon the farm. The gorgeous woman takes Michael to Tokyo and New York, all the while embroiling him in an art-world authentication scheme that confronts the age-old question of whether beauty and value do indeed lie in the eye of the beholder.
Knopf. 272 pages. $24. ISBN: 0307263711

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A novel about modern art seems like an inevitable destination for Carey. Could there be any more irresistible house of mirrors for an author fascinated by deceit and subterfuge?" Ron Charles

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Carey captures the tidal wash of an artist’s narcissism—the stewing, the ambition, the adversarial bravado, the retreating, the work, and the strange process by which all this becomes not just an object of art and expression but a commodity." John Freeman

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"Carey is the least likely writer to go generic on us. Freshly imagined, cunningly plotted, engagingly written, Theft is the kind of novel only an abundantly gifted artist, and one serious about his craft, could produce." Charles Matthews

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Theft is unsettling and erratic, yet eventually develops a straightforward tale of the intrigue of art and love. Whether examining society, the global art trade, or just relationships between brothers and between men and women, Carey seems to argue that our desire to cheat, self-destruct, and even kill for love and power remains charged." Christine Thomas

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The complicated Leibovitz subplot, which eventually becomes the main plot … is engaging enough, but seems more suited to a seasoned writer of thrillers … who wouldn’t bother to scumble the hard, factual surface of the narrative with irrelevancies like atmosphere and characterization." Paul Gray

New Yorker 2 of 5 Stars
"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. Theft is not a superb novel; there is something displaced at its heart. Its colorful means keep us at one remove from the central action, which, in retrospect, is perfidious and shocking." John Updike

Critical Summary

While it may not reach the aesthetic heights of his Booker Prize–winning novels Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey’s new work is no fraud. His masterful use of voice is present here in the alternating (if unreliable) narration of Michael and his brother Hugh. For all the accomplished circuitousness of his plot and "jewel-encrusted prose" (Esquire), especially that focused on the painting process, the real strength of the novel lies in the relationship between the Boone brothers. In fact, many reviewers feel the thriller premise distracts Carey from his strengths.

Also Reviewed

My Life as a Fake | Peter Carey (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2004. The editor of a literary journal and her successful poet friend travel to Malaysia in the 1970s. There they are presented with a brilliant manuscript by a poet who had previously been thought to be a fictional creation. Is the manuscript real? To what lengths should they go to acquire it?