... a caustically funny, scalpel-sharp satire about a young man trying to get ahead, and a foothold, in a rapidly changing London and a recently divided Britain ... Theft is for the most part plotless but it is by no means directionless. Paul’s misadventures, romantic entanglements and attempts at stability are more than enough to charm the reader and support the novel. It might feel episodic in places, too quick to jump from one scene to another of Paul at work, at play or in therapy, but it hardly matters when those scenes are so well crafted and highly memorable ... Brown succeeds on so many levels. His cast is well-drawn and their hopes and desires are keenly felt. Paul’s acerbic commentary provokes snorts of laughter ... His more self-deprecating meditations or troublesome predicaments elicit waves of sympathy ... at the heart of this bittersweet novel is a tender, perfectly realized human drama.
The resulting story is one of radical instability, partly because the question of Brexit has aggravated Paul’s relationship with his sister, and partly because Paul’s interactions with Emily and Sophie have strained his sense of being, of place, and of romantic security. Brown handles all of this with poise, precision, brio and a bracing lack of sentimentality. He also pulls off the novelist’s trick of awakening our empathy for a narrator as potentially rebarbative as Paul, while making it clear that we are in the presence of a shit ... The dominant feeling we are left with, then, is one of an enlargement of sympathies, and an enhanced apprehension of the various forms that personal constancy, political allegiance, thwarted ambition and silent aspirations might take. Theft might be a novel about the multiple ways in which we can be robbed of our foundations and our fidelities, but the attentive and subtle manner in which it is executed is unmistakably Brown’s own.
Theft is profoundly concerned with the relationship between a person’s provenance and their place in the world ... Brown’s portrayal of this provincial milieu is refreshingly nuanced ... Paul’s motives are enigmatically opaque. His pursuit of Emily seems to be driven not so much by carnal lust as by animus against her partner and all that he represents—a kind of sexualised class warfare ... perhaps the most striking feature of this well-crafted novel is the highly selective access we are afforded to the narrator’s inner life. He is candid and transparent when ruminating on family and friends, but of his sexual machinations we get zilch. This makes for a convincing rendering of the compulsive, thoughtless nature of certain kinds of destructive behaviour. The register here is more black comedy than psychodrama: the narration is brisk and the dialogue pithy, with lots of satirical lampooning of the contemporary cultural landscape—wry digs about clickbait journalists, ambivalent polyamorists and right-on literati.
As we go, we can’t be sure how calculated Paul’s recklessness is. He himself seems unsure if this is his way of self-medicating his grief, or just his way of being. In truth, he is kidding himself and kidding us ... While Paul tries to see himself as an enlightened man, Brown reveals him often to be as petty and possessive as the 'awful men' he judges in the lives of his friends and his sister. This is a moral novel about a crisis in masculinity; whether it is one that will resonate at the very moment of crisis is harder to discern, and part of that is to do with the tone of this frequently funny, stylishly and unfrivolously written book ... Theft is elegiac about lost youth and love, about dilapidated English seaside towns, about the abandoned north and its working classes and a receding idea of an affordable, exciting London. But it is also elegiac about the spirits of those dead white male authors (Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow are name-checked; Kingsley Amis haunts unannounced) who wrote the type of book that inspired its creation, and who are considered unfashionable in the #MeToo era. Theft enacts the mode whose passing it laments ... Readers like myself, for whom witty books about libertines formed the basis of a sentimental education, will enjoy Theft. They may even recognise themselves in it. Readers who never had much truck with the style—its charming man-child anti-heroes with their moral acrobatics and their guilt—or who believe the mode has rightly had its day, may find male desire as boring as usual. But if they give it a chance they’ll find the book funny and moving, too.
An emotionally complex story of grief, desire, and Brexit ... Paul’s occasionally acerbic narration makes for a memorable narrative voice, and Brown...pulls off the tricky feat of creating a protagonist who teeters on the border of misanthropic and self-loathing without making him unbearable. Along the way, Brown ponders questions of class and art, creating a memorable supporting cast whose beliefs often come into conflict, leading to numerous barbed exchanges ... With bleak humor and sharp details, Brown memorably connects the personal and the political.
Brown’s clever U.S. debut examines the challenges of contemporary life in London as experienced by an underachieving 30-something journalist ... This tragicomedy successfully captures the feeling of what it’s like to yearn for a stable home, career, and love today.