Britain 2016 and battle lines are being drawn. Love cools, friendships fall off, siblings divide and Paul, the bookish narrator of Luke Brown’s second novel, Theft, commits an act of gratuitous, destructive betrayal. His confession begins with an appeal to the enlightened empathy of the reader: ‘you have to understand the context.’
This is a test. Selling books and writing magazine columns have not made Paul more understanding or compassionate. (Nor did such activities help Liam, the unfaithful literary editor in My Biggest Lie, the author’s first novel.) Brown has no patience with the smug cliché that reading is intrinsically virtuous or its more insidious extension, that intellectuals are morally superior people. Instead, he suggests, perhaps the mendacity of fiction makes it a useful way of examining an angry era.
Flattery and self-indulgence have done well for Paul so far; he has cultivated ‘a teenager’s idea of a perfect life’ as a thirty-something hipster in Dalston. Then he loses his mother, his books column and his rent-controlled flat, and his sister disappears. The certainties of his youth destroyed, Paul deliberately