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Theft: A Love Story (2006)

by Peter Carey

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2503811,742 (3.35)79
Michael 'Butcher' Boone is an ex, really famous painter 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 emotions. 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, 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.… (more)
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English (35)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (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 – in Australia, anyway – 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 “damagedâ€ù 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’s studio, complete with expensive coachwood flooring. Immediately afterwards, Butcher buys plywood and fixes it on top of the coachwood with Sheetrock screws. He doesn’t do this out of malice; it’s just that “it could not work the way it was.â€ù 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 20, 2021 |
Expected that this was going to be a "G r e a t W o r k", but it was just a meandering yarn about the art world, forgery, with a love thing too.

The Australia-isms are nice, the ending is sweet.

Summary: Peter Carey's "Theft: a Love Story" is a passable way to spend a few hours. ( )
  GirlMeetsTractor | Mar 22, 2020 |
Brilliant, as only Peter Carey can be. Interesting characters, fabulous dialogue (with plenty of un translated Aussie-isms), and a plot with plenty of depth. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
Book on CD narrated by Simon Vance
3***

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 |
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Michael 'Butcher' Boone is an ex, really famous painter 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 emotions. 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, 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.

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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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