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Theft by Peter Carey

Theft (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Peter Carey

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1,119377,372 (3.34)73
Authors:Peter Carey
Info:Faber and Faber (2007), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:BEN - DIS
Tags:Australia, tbr

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Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey (2006)

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Take one ex-famous painter, Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. Shake well and see what happens. Apparently, Theft is what happens.

Michael "Butcher" Boone has had a string of bad luck. He was once a celebrated artist ÛÒ in Australia, anyway ‰ÛÒ but his star is on the wane. He had a messy divorce, lost custody of his young son, and was jailed after trying to steal back his paintings from his ex-wife. Now, thanks to one of his collectors, Butcher is the unpaid caretaker for a country house where he also has to look after his ‰ÛÏdamaged‰Û younger brother, Hugh.

The narrator for most of the book, Butcher is a selfish egotistical son of a bitch, and he freely admits to it. In one of the funniest passages, his patron shows off the house‰Ûªs studio, complete with expensive coachwood flooring. Immediately afterwards, Butcher buys plywood and fixes it on top of the coachwood with Sheetrock screws. He doesn‰Ûªt do this out of malice; it‰Ûªs just that ‰ÛÏit could not work the way it was.‰Û We also see his frustration with Hugh, whose disability checks he spends on paint and alcohol.

It's never explicitly stated what is wrong with Hugh, who narrates every third chapter. He has a disregard for personal hygiene, does not know his own strength, and is happy to just sit on his folding chair and people-watch. But while Hugh may be simple, he is not stupid. Although he depends on Butcher for care, he resents his brother's egotism and seems to delight in his downfall: "One minute you are a NATIONAL TREASURE with a house in Ryde and then you are a has-been buying Dulux with your brother's DISABILITY PENSION."

One stormy evening, the Boones are visited by the lovely, enigmatic Marlene. She is the wife of Olivier Leibovitz, the only son of famous Cubist painter Jacques Leibovitz. Thanks to her marriage, Marlene is a holder of the droit moral, the right to authenticate paintings said to be by Leibovitz. Butcher and Hugh's neighbor owns one such painting, and soon after Marlene confirms it is genuine, it is stolen. When suspicion falls on Butcher, Marlene comes to the rescue by offering him a show in Japan. Completely smitten, Butcher follows her first to Tokyo, then to New York City. There is clearly something fishy going on. But who is scamming whom? And why?

Both Hugh and Butcher fall for Marlene, but the "love story" of the title is that between the two brothers. The entire art-heist plot serves as a backdrop for their relationship, and despite their mutual resentment, there is also love, loyalty, and even moments of selflessness. It's all very sweet. However, the overarching plot is often lost in favor of Butcher or Hugh detailing what is happening here and now. Between one's self-absorption and the other's confusion, the presentation of events is very limited.

In [b:Oscar and Lucinda|316496|Oscar and Lucinda|Peter Carey|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1173712561s/316496.jpg|2304710] and [b:True History of the Kelly Gang|110090|True History of the Kelly Gang|Peter Carey|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1421627415s/110090.jpg|2134852], Peter Carey evoked a sense of place and time beautifully. In Theft, we know we are in Japan because (1) Butcher says so and (2) there are lots of businessmen eating sushi. That's it. Also, when writing in Hugh's voice, Carey makes some stylistic choices that I personally hate. For instance, Hugh says of another character that "the skin of his eyelids was soft as a penis freshly bathed." Erm, what? I don't think people actually talk like that. Maybe I should stick to Carey's period pieces. ( )
  doryfish | Aug 15, 2016 |
I can see that this novel works on a number of levels. It’s got quite a lot to say about the arbitrary way in which art is valued. In having two narrators, it allows a commentary on each as well as the contrasting voices. And in being set, amongst other places, in Australia and USA, Carey can use his close knowledge of both places to authenticate the setting.

For me, though, this book just doesn’t work. The crudities of his Australian protagonists seems to be part of an Australia of the past and while there are some memorably vivid phrases in the book, for the most part it seems to just have a dully excessive amount of coarse language although by the end I was sort of immune to it. I think a main key to enjoying this book is to appreciate the type of humour Carey offers and because it depends in part on what I find is a clichéd, erroneous Barry Humphries type of depiction of Australians, it doesn’t appeal to me. So we find Hugh, characteristically using capital letters, saying this about his brother’s silence on a car trip: ‘The cat had my brother’s tongue and would not release it, not even when I farted BETTER OUT THAN IN as our father used to say, also – FARTING HORSE NEVER TIRES’. For me there’s too much of this unimaginative writing and not enough of wittier bits like: ‘Having rashly jumped aboard, I had no more choice than dishwater down the giddy drain’.

Plot-wise it’s extravagant too, in keeping with the exuberant tone of the book but overdone for me. Underdone was the character of Marlene who was supposed to be an enigma, I think, but who seemed paper-then to me – just a doting lover who, on the quiet, does bad things. I loved ‘Illywhacker’ all that time ago and had some regard for ‘Bliss’, to novels where Carey’s originality seemed freshly vibrant. This novel, though, seems strained. ( )
  evening | Jul 15, 2016 |
Book on CD narrated by Simon Vance

Michael “Butcher” Boone used to be a famous painter. Now, following a messy divorce and a jail term and thanks to the largess of a former patron, he’s living on a remote estate with his developmentally delayed brother, Hugh. One rainy day a beautiful young woman appears at their door in a downpour. Marlene is smart and driven, and also the daughter-in-law of the late Jacques Leibowitz, a painter of world renown, and one of Michael’s early influences. She’s nice and develops a rapport with Hugh – not an easy fete – and departs on her 3-inch Manolo Blahnik heels just as quickly as she appeared. But Marlene’s connection to the Boone brothers isn’t over. Like a bad penny she reappears and continues to wreak havoc.

The novel is told by the two brothers in alternating chapters. Butcher is pretty straightforward in his narration, if a little slow to catch on to what Marlene is up to. Hugh, given his mental deficiencies, seemingly rambles, but has insights unique to his perspective. Regardless, the two are drawn into Marlene’s schemes, like moths to a flame, and the reader can only watch the train wreck.

The plot is convoluted and intricate, as befits a psychological thriller, but I didn’t find it a grippingly fast read. I was interested but puzzled about where this was going for a good third of the novel. Part of this, of course, is the dual narration, especially given Hugh’s limited information. However, once Butcher and Marlene begin their international adventure – going first to Japan and then New York – I was completely engrossed. And just when I thought I had it figured out, Carey had another surprise in store for me. I’ve finished the book and I’m still waiting for the next twist …

Simon Vance is superb as the narrator of the audio version. He gives each brother a unique voice, which makes it easy to tell who is narrating. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 5, 2016 |
(7.5) This story is told in the alternating voices of two brothers Michael and Hugh Boone. There is good characterisation of them and their relationship. It delves into the complexity of the art world and at times I felt a little lost /bored. The story moves from rural Australia to Japan and New York. A different tale from this author but not one I enjoyed as much as others of his I have read. ( )
  HelenBaker | Nov 11, 2015 |
Michael "Butcher" Boone has hit on some hard times - recently divorced and his life work as an artist not only out of popularity but in the hands of his ex-wife - and to add on to his troubles, he's been appointed the guardian of both a rural estate belonging to a patron and his own brother Hugh, who has an unspecified mental disability. Things go from worse to unexpectedly whirlwind when a beautiful authenticator, Marlene Liebovitz, arrives on the scene and declares that the Boones' rustic neighbor is in possession rare piece of art from the early 20th century - and the work is soon stolen days afterward, with Butcher becoming the police's primary suspect.

The story of Theft is told in the alternating perspectives of Butcher - a coarse, bitter, and angry man - and Hugh - who, as aforementioned, has some behavioral/mental issues and doesn't always understand what is going on around him. Neither of them were particularly likable or even engaging characters. Marlene, who seems to be a one-note character who can do whatever she wants because she is so irresistibly beautiful that all men around her fawn over her, was equally uninteresting. The "love story" between Butcher and Marlene seemed completely unbelievable, although there is an attempt toward the end to explain that Marlene is attracted to men who are as a physically imposing and brusque as her country father was.

Plot-wise, Theft is actually pretty slim when it comes right down to it, despite the multiple changes in scenery. There were few surprises, except one at the very end. A big overarching theme is about the nature of art itself - what goes into making it, what goes into appreciating it, and what goes into deciding a masterpiece. However, I felt like this theme was very similar to that of My Life as a Fake, the other Peter Carey novel that I read before this one and enjoyed much more. I had found My Life as a Fake much more thought-provoking than this novel.

The reader of the audiobook version of this book was just okay. Some of his accents were just completely off (like that of a woman in New York) while others came off as insulting caricatures (like that of a Japanese man). I had a hard time telling if it was Carey's writing or the narrator's reading or a combination of both that made the character of Hugh come off as a bit disparaging as well. There were other bits dropped here and there that hinted at some casual racism, misogyny, classism, and ableism, but it was think that was more a reflection of the characters' opinions than Carey's. Either way, it didn't make the characters any more likable or the book any more enjoyable.

Greater minds that mine have praised this book and its place in literature, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. It was not poorly written; it just wasn't a compelling read for me. I'm glad I tackled Carey's My Life as a Fake prior to this one; if I had read this first, I probably wouldn't pick up another Carey, but as it is, I am still interested in trying some other works of his and hoping this one was a fluke. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Nov 4, 2015 |
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Book description
From CD Case: "Theft is about obsession, deception, and redemption, a psychological suspense story and a work of charged, hilarious 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, setting in motion a chain of events that could be of the making--or the ruin--of them all."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307276481, Paperback)

Michael "Butcher" Boone is an ex-“really famous" painter, now reduced to living in a remote country house and acting as caretaker for his younger brother, Hugh. Alone together they've forged a delicate equilibrium, a balance instantly destroyed when a mysterious young woman named Marlene walks out of a rainstorm and into their lives. Beautiful, smart, and ambitious, she's also the daughter-in-law of the late great painter Jacques Liebovitz. Soon Marlene sets in motion a chain of events that could be the making--or the ruin--of them all.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:02 -0400)

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Reduced to living in a remote country house and serving as caretaker for his volatile and childlike brother Hugh, Michael "Butcher" Boone, a once-famous painter, finds his life changed by the arrival of an enigmatic young woman named Marlene.

(summary from another edition)

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