Christine Strelan - Between the Covers


Peter Carey

Knopf 2006

A new Peter Carey novel is always cause for excitement at my place and Theft does not disappoint. The man who created Harry Joy, Oscar and Lucinda has conjured another set of great characters. Michael Butcher Boone is an artist from Bacchus marsh, saddled with the full-time care of his intellectually handicapped brother Hugh. After rising to national fame in the early 80s, Butcher is washed up, debilitated by divorce and public apathy. Reduced to house-sitting a holiday home in Bellingen, he scrounges art supplies and tries to reconnect with his talent. One minute you are a National Treasure with a house in Ryde, then you are a has-been buying Dulux with your brothers disability pension. One night there is the kind of North Coast flood we all know well, and out of the rain and mud comes a strange woman, wading up to the house, carrying her Manolo Blahnik heels in one hand.

Marlenes arrival triggers a series of events that culminates in deceit and death, moving from Bellingen to Sydney, Tokyo and New York. The story takes place in the cut-throat world of art dealers and forgers; every artist is a pirate, says Butcher. Carey explores the way in which art becomes merely an asset, something to be haggled over by high finance sharks. This is what art has been reduced to. These are the most larcenous people on earth. Butcher and Marlene both come from battler backgrounds and art has been a wildly exotic escape route from lives they perceived as limited and soul-destroying.

The story is narrated by both brothers, using lively, imaginative language that is often funny. Butcher rants about his work: The undiluted greens I did not even bother with, but the others I was into like a snouty pig huge luscious jars, greens so dark, satanic black holes that suck your heart out of your chest. Hugh is a kind of idiot-savant, providing his eccentric version of events, poking holes in Butchers egomania.

I cant say much more without spoiling the plots surprises, but I found it difficult to put down. Another terrific read from one of Australias best writers.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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