The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

The unnamed character in Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief (Soho Crime) is a savant at picking victims as well as picking pockets. He skirts through existence drinking canned coffee, riding trains, and lifting wallets. But this thief has his own troubles, the first of which are images of towers that have plagued him his whole life, “When I was young, there was always the tower in the distance.” Several times throughout The Thief different images of the tower come to him whether “… an enormous iron tower flashed by me with a loud roar” or “When the tower appeared in front of me, the dirty black plastic moved into clearer focus. I stared at the pathetic, flesh-like trash.”

Towards beginning of the book, the ant-hero comes across a young boy, the son a of prostitute.

I noticed a mother with her child and I stopped. The woman, her damaged hair tied in a ponytail, touched the boy lightly with her knee. At that moment he slipped a packet of fish fillets into the Uniqlo bag he was carrying. A towel had been placed inside and by shaking the paper bag the stuff was hidden. My heart skipped a beat and I was annoyed with myself. The child was seizing the items earnestly, as though trying to live up to his mother’s expectations. He was skillful, and he seemed determined that even if he were caught his mother wouldn’t be blamed.

It is apparent that the boy reminds the thief of himself at a young age, though he consistently denies this to himself. The boy quickly attaches himself to the thief and becomes his second problem as our anti-hero doesn’t know what to do with him: ignore the boy, teach the child the craft, make the mother take better care of her child, or turn the boy over to the authorities.

The last of the thief’s troubles is that he, by way of a friend, is unwillingly recruited for a home invasion/burglary. The leader of the gang that recruited him is a bit tough —”They say a couple of people have run away from him and ended up dead. He’s relentless, I hear.”

The action is quite limited in Nakamura’s novel, but the despair is not as The Thief is filled with sadness.. The novel is more in line with Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment than with Hammett, Thompson and others. Even though a constant pathos that permeates through all the characters, The Thief was a worthwhile read.

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