Brandon's Reviews > Theft: A Love Story

Theft by Peter Carey
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's review
Apr 18, 2007

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bookshelves: inthefrontbrain
Recommended for: Friends
Read in March, 2007

Peter Carey has been a favorite author of mine for awhile now; I picked him up in a sort of happy accident when I stumbled upon The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith about 8 or 9 years ago. I really enjoyed it, and after that, I went back and dove into some of his other works including Oscar and Lucinda, and later The True History of the Kelly Gang, and was definitely not disappointed.

That said, Peter Carey is probably not an author for everyone. His writing often includes characters who are either monstrous, larger than life, or both. His protagonists are often rough and dangerous folk; it's easy to get emotional with them during a reading and realize that you've come to like them in spite of the sense of loathing they often provoke. Theft: A Love Story is no exception. The main character, Butcher Bones, often filled me with alternating feelings of disgust and admiration. His brother, Slow Bones, who proves to be anything but, comes in early and carries all the way through the novel as the hulking, chair-wielding presence of the literally "grotesque" that one can expect in much of Carey's writing.

Carey is also EXTREMELY good at opening up his vision of Australia to the reader: through sometimes difficult but clearly native dialect and colloquialisms, fantastic descriptions of setting with flash insights that border on poetry, and a rare skill for character crafting that both identifies with the reader and shows very clearly the wild and often misunderstood roots of the definitively Australian "outcast", who often appears, in one form or another, in his books. This comes through resoundingly in the new book, and Butcher, Hugh, and even Marlene are wonderful examples of how varied and diverse this character-type can be.

This was not, however, my favorite of his novels. Aside from some notable "plotholes" toward the end of the book, the alternating narrative style (between the voices of Butcher and Hugh) seems to stumble at times and works, although marvelously in some places, far less well in others. His efforts to craft a mentally "slow" character who is ultimately as complex as Hugh, and who serves as such a foil to his overzealous brother, shouldn't be overlooked, but it becomes rather taxing to deal with him after awhile, as I'm sure Butcher would agree.

Finally, the last issue I have is that this seems to be, quite literally, an "art-house" drama to some extent. While that's not in and of itself a bad thing, Carey really went out of his way here to immerse the reader in the lingo and catastrophes of the art world. And if you're not an artist, you may have a hard time caring at all about Butcher's anxieties, or about Marlene's desperation, and the fantastic nature of the event that gives the book its title.

In this latest book, I think Carey was being playful as much with his own ideas as he ultimately ends up being with the reader. I DID really enjoy this book in the end, but I don't know that I'd recommend it as a first read if you're thinking about picking up something he's written. Certainly he's a wonderful author and remains one of my favorites, but this book felt just a bit too "in-crowd-ish" by the end. Try The True History of the Kelly Gang, and if you like it, then be happy that there's been a recent addition to the ever-expanding "to read" list, and that we have Peter Carey to thank for it once again.


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