That subtitle is a quote from the press release for Luke Brown’s smart, funny new novel and it’s what made me want to read it. I tend to find the A4 sheets that accompany review copies a wee bit over the top but I loved that phrase which turned out to fit Theft very well. Of course, if I’d known that its main protagonist was a bookseller and reviewer, I’d have needed no such persuasion.
Paul lives in the dilapidated Dalston flat he’s shared for years with various friends and acquaintances. He’s worked part-time in a Bloomsbury bookshop for a decade, trawling clubs at night for fetching haircut shots to post on the magazine page whose hits far outstrip his book reviews. He’s on the edge of London’s literary milieu, managing to land himself an interview with a reclusive novelist with whom he sparks a connection. Emily invites Paul to lunch at the Holland Park house she shares with her partner Andrew, a well-known historian several decades older. There he meets Sophie, Andrew’s daughter, busy cultivating her rebelliousness via her Guardian pieces on sexual politics. Holland Park is a world away from the small Northern seaside town where Paul was raised with his sister Amy. Their mother has recently died in a car crash, leaving them the family home. Amy’s keen to sell, planning to plough the proceeds into a flat currently just out of her financial reach and thinks Paul should do the same but he’s reluctant to let go of the life he’s led since he left university, despite having reached his mid-thirties. Over a year which sees the EU referendum, Paul continues to flirt with Emily’s world until he takes an irrevocable step and is cast out.
What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context.
With its snappy opening sentence Brown sets his readers up for mischief in this novel which explores the intergenerational divide, London’s literary life and the state of our divided nation. Paul is an engaging narrator – a bookish party boy, falling in love here and there, caught up in his obsession with Emily, seemingly unable to fully acknowledge his mother’s death and how angry it’s made him. Brown’s characters are astutely drawn – Sophie’s constant public yanking of her father’s chain in her Guardian pieces and her cynical virtue signalling are particularly well done – and it’s very funny at times, underpinned, as all good social comedy should be, with some acute observations. Paul’s London life is in stark contrast to the lives of his old schoolmates in the seaside town where the fishing industry has long since dwindled, replaced with nothing. A hugely entertaining novel with a pleasingly acerbic edge, I loved it.
And Other Stories: London 2020 9781911508588 320 pages Paperback