The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose
The stakes are low and the quality lower in Augustus Rose's trudge of a debut novel
Augustus Rose’s much-hyped debut has attracted praise from the likes of Colson Whitehead and Audrey Niffenegger. With, as is increasingly the case with heavily promoted releases, a raft of pre-publication rave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, it is the ‘event’ title of the season.
It may helpfully claim to be ‘A NOVEL’ on the cover, but The Readymade Thief is firmly product first, literature second. And its heft makes for not so much a page-turner (a whopping 400 of them) as a marathon trudge. The Philadelphia-set narrative follows seventeen-year-old Lee Cuddy as she attempts to overcome teen strife (tick them off – charismatic/ultimately disloyal friends, inattentive mother), false imprisonment and unplanned pregnancy while still finding time to piece together the mysteries of a secret society in thrall to Marcel Duchamp.
Rose’s crimes are various and unforgivable. Bad enough in 2017 that his young, female protagonist is a drab, sparkless figure, and that traversing his over-written prose is like swimming in treacle (take the interminable 150 word paragraph at the bottom of page 96 as an example). Unconscionable, however, in a story aimed at the flooded YA/thriller market that The Readymade Thief is so utterly low-stakes: little in the way of build-up or dread, and a big fat zero in the pay-off.