Friday, June 09, 2006

Back Link Theft: a Love Story - Peter Carey

Carey fans and newcomers alike will be delighted by his latest novel, a feat of literary ventriloquy every bit as accomplished as his second Booker winner ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’. The story is told in two voices, that of scurrilous, self-important artist Michael Boone, aka Butcher Bones, and the observations of his brother Hugh, who Michael euphemistically describes as damaged. Following release from prison - an unfair incarceration, Michael insists, after he ‘liberated’ some of his own work unfairly awarded to his ex-wife during their divorce (said unflatteringly-portrayed ex being allegedly based on Carey’s own estranged spouse) - Boone is trying to rebuild his career within an uncaring eighties art world that has moved on. Then glamorous blonde Marlene Liebovitz tumbles into his life one stormy night, claiming that his neighbour is the possessor of a priceless original Jacques Liebovitz painting… a painting that is subsequently stolen. What follows is part crime-caper, part love story, an exuberantly amoral romp that inevitably ends in disaster.

The book appears to be semi-autobiographical, the character of Michael pointedly sharing details of Carey’s own life and upbringing. This makes it all the more enjoyable when Carey allows Michael’s artistic ego to run riot through the pages, commenting on everything from the unfairness of divorce to the narrow minds of artistic commentators. How much of this is Carey’s own views, refracted through the lens of Michael’s monstrous self-regard? Michael’s rants are balanced by the observations of his idiot savant brother, whose internal life is far more complex than Michael allows for, and who in turn sees his brother more clearly that he sees himself. But it is Michael for whom everything is at stake, as his passionate nature pulls him three ways: his love for Marlene, for art, and for Hugh, who, though volatile and dangerous, is bound to him through unbreakable ties of family and loyalty. Eventually, Michael is forced to choose which of these matter most to him.

Theft: a Love Story is equal to Carey’s best work, by turns hilarious and moving, its central trio of characters and their dilemmas brilliantly portrayed. Michael and Hugh are amongst Carey’s most memorable creations, and their voices will stay with you long after you have finished this joyous, remarkable novel.

Marie from London, England

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