Book Review: “The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex” (Gabrielle Williams)

the guy the girlThis book is not in the least speculative fiction, except insofar as it speculates about what MIGHT have happened when a valuable Picasso was stolen from the National Gallery in Melbourne, Australia in the 1980s. Having lived in Melbourne during that time, I simply couldn’t resist reading and reviewing Gabrielle Williams’ The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex. The book is a simple “what if” that weaves a story around these events. The four titular characters provide four distinct and ultimately intertwined points of view relating to the theft, and ultimate return, of the painting by a group calling themselves the “Australian Cultural Terrorists.” The true identity of the thieves was never discovered in real life.

Apart from a LOT of nostalgia about Melbourne in the 1980s, this book is a little bit of everything. There’s adventure, intrigue, teen romance, and artists behaving very VERY badly. In fact, in terms of the artists portrayed in this story (with their attempts at theft, forgery, fencing stolen art etc), the story was reminiscent of one of my favorite movies of all time, How to Steal a Million starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn. Go and see it immediately if you haven’t already (The musical score was also composed by a very young “Johnny Williams.”)! But I digress …

This book was about as much fun as you can have without involving alcohol or illegal substances. The characters are engaging. The switches between points of view work well and are not jarring, occasionally even giving the reader the same scene from different points of view so we get a completely different take on it. The plot is intricately woven and largely comic although it veers into near tragedy for a little bit toward the end. We know it’s all going to work out, though.

I found this book in the YA section of an Australian bookstore and I’m not 100% sure that it’s actually YA. Several of the narrators are teenagers and the material is certainly suitable for teen audiences. But a number of the main characters are older and I don’t know how interested younger readers would be in something that happened in the 1980s where the plot of the book is so specific to that event. The book is certainly appealing on its own terms and a lot of fun to read, but I got so much more out of it because of having experienced the backlash against the government and the gallery for having bought the Picasso in the first place. The book makes much of this by interspersing the chapters with op-eds from Melbournites about their feelings toward the Picasso and the theft.

Whether or not it’s YA and whether or not it’s everyone’s cup of tea, I’m so glad I found this book and it really took me back to a wonderful time in my life and Melbourne’s recent history.