Monday, December 1, 2008

Review: Theft: a love story

Theft: a love story by Peter Carey
3.5 stars

Reason for reading: Australian author for Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Description: "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."

First line: "I don't know if my story is grand enough to be a tragedy, although a lot of shitty stuff did happen."

My thoughts: This one gets the extra half star for creativity and talent, because the device of telling the story in alternating points of view (Butcher is intelligent and biting yet also romantic, Hugh is bizarre yet poetic) was very interesting. But it was just a bit too much for me at times - Hugh's chapters can be pretty hard to get through and Butcher isn't a particularly likeable character. And most of the art references went over my head. I don't know if it's grand enough to be a tragedy (as with most tragic literary figures, I think Butcher brings most of his trouble on himself), but there's a lot going on. Too much, in fact - romance, the brothers' relationship, the backstory of their lives, Butcher's career plus the actual theft. I'd been reading a lot of harder-to-get-through books at the same time, so maybe my brain was tired out. Oddly, Private Peaceful featured a mentally disabled brother, too, a weird bit of reading serendipity.

Peter Carey is an Australian who now lives in New York and both settings are drawn well - particularly the brothers' small hometown of the Marsh. But also both tenement apartments and a ritzy club near Gramercy Park, as well as the bright lights of Tokyo. I think for someone whose brain wasn't tired and perhaps knew more about art than I do, this would be a good read.

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