19 June 2007

Peter Carey - Theft: A Love Story

Carey has been acclaimed by a well-read acquaintance as possibly the best author currently writing in English, so I thought it was time I read one of his books. I read half of Illywhacker about 20 years ago, but felt it might be better to try a more recent work.

Theft: A Love Story is in a fashionable modern genre - the lit fic art history mystery. Frayn's Headlong is another example. The genre is useful for modern writers as it enables them to use art as a proxy for literature - the creative act being a major obsession - and also to have characters having intelligent discussions, displaying the author's research. Frayn wore this last too obviously; Carey is more subtle than that, and his descriptions of painting techniques feel less like lectures than Frayn's digressions on Bruegel.

Theft has two narrators - Michael Boone, a forgotten Australian artist, and his brother Hugh, a huge lunk, damaged and socially incapable, but occasionally insightful. These two narrators revolve around each other, Hugh dependent upon Michael, as the action moves from Sydney to Tokyo and then New York. The plot evolves with increasing tension and involvement, as Michael is dragged into an art fraud, and his loyalties are stretched between a woman and his brother.

Carey's strength is characterisation, and more his ability to create character through narrative voice. While I haven't read his previous works, The True History of the Kelly Gang was noted for its supposed authenticity of voice, and that's evident here. Hugh, in particular, has a stumbling grace to his narration, and there's an energy and anger to both men that drives the story forward.


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