The art of theft

22 09 2011

Theft: a love story by Peter Carey

Theft is the story of Michael “Butcher” Boone, an Australian artist whose career is having an early and comprehensive twilight. He is guardian, babysitter and caretaker for his “damaged two hundred and twenty pound brother”, Hugh. “There is always Hugh,” Butcher says, “and you cannot take a slash or park the truck without considering him.” As the novel opens, Butcher is fresh out of jail for robbing his ex-wife of his own paintings, paintings that became hers when the marriage ended. Exiled to a remote house owned by a fussy former patron, Butcher is trying to get his career back on track, avoid his creditors and manage Hugh, when – on a stormy, flooding evening – he receives a visit from the mysterious Marlene, described by Hugh as “a GAMINE with tiny boobies and a silk dress you could have fitted in your pocket with your hanky”.

Through marriage to Olivier Liebovitz, Marlene is the holder of the droit moral, the hereditary right to authenticate paintings, in this case those of Olivier’s dead father, Jacques Liebovitz. Somehow, Butcher and Hugh’s farmer neighbour has recently acquired a Liebovitz of mysterious provenance, and Marlene arrives, a vision in Manolo Blahniks tramping through knee-deep mud, to put a validating stamp on it, immediately sending its worth into the stratosphere.

– from the Guardian review of the book.

The tale is told through the alternating narratives of Butcher and his brother Hugh and both become involved, following the arrival of Marlene, in what seems to be an elaborate and lucrative scam which takes them to Tokyo and New York. Both characters are terrifically portrayed and Carey’s writing is just excellent. The novel is also a great exploration of the real and the fake in art and in life. It’s a thoroughly entertaining read and well worth a go.

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