Wednesday, July 04, 2007

opposites attract

Friday, September 01, 2006 at 3:34 PM BST

I have previously read three novels by Peter Carey, and I still don't know if I like him. Reading Theft has not clarified the matter. There are moments of beauty in his writing that capture me and persuade me back for more. But I find his tone weighs heavy on me and can turn reading into a chore.

This novel is a story about art. About finding the path between art for arts sake and art for money. It is told in the first person (my least preferred narrative style) by the artist Butcher Bones, and his learning disabled brother, Hugh.

Butcher Bones had the Carey tone that pushes me away. Words for words sake, talk to sound clever, making lots of noise but saying very little. The only times he had me onside was when he enthused about colours and paints and techniques. I complained that Sarah Waters characters seemed somewhat dead - but perhaps Careys are too alive?

But while the plot didn't particularly captivate me - the chapters narrated by Hugh did. Perhaps I prefer the world perspective of an 'idiot savant' over an art criminal. Perhaps Hughs words resonate with a childs honest simplicity - seeing through all the cover-ups (emotional and artistic) perpetrated by his brother.

'As a boy I could never understand why nice clean sand would cause such terror in my dads bloodshot eyes, but I had never seen an hourglass and did not know that I would die.'

I don't think Theft will win the Booker Prize this year - Carey has won it twice already with better books that this - but it's quotes like these that leave me with the knowledge that I will continue to read Carey, still not knowing if I like him.

'I took a folding chair down to the footpath and witnessed all the human clocks passing me, pumping, sloshing - there is one, there another, and each one the centre of the world. You can go half mad looking at them, like gazing at the stars at night and thinking of infinity.'

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