It's more than four months old, but it's still worth reading...
Sunday, March 25, 2012
The Thief, by Fuminori Nakamura
I picked up this book in galley form purely by chance one afternoon at the bookstore I work in, and then couldn't put it down. Luckily for you, I was very late in reading it and it became available on March 20th in finished form.
Our nameless protagonist is a pickpocket--an excellent one. He roams Tokyo--its streets, its trains--smoothly lifting the wallets of the unsuspecting. Although he is not at all befuddled, there is a certain sense that he is operating in a fugue state, as though by concentrating on the details of these crimes, he is seeking to avoid awareness of his larger life. We have the sense that he has been doing this for awhile now, without any larger aims than keeping afloat, but life is about to come crashing in on him anyway. Without intending to, he becomes involved with a mother and son. The mother's the kind you'd call Child Protective Services on in the U.S. but the Thief is probably not the sort of person who would call the authorities in any country. His relationship with the boy recalls many stories with an unlikely stranger being thrust into the role of guardian of a small child, but it's no less compelling for that.
The past has come back to haunt the Thief in a big way, too. Through his connection to an earlier crime he is roped into a home robbery, and things spiral out of control from there. To be honest, the one element of the story that rang a bit untrue for me was the nihilistic darkness of the chief villain. But then I happened to read the beginning of a book called Tokyo Vice, which was written by an American journalist in Japan named Jake Adelstein. After his description of the gangster mentality there, I could be persuaded that the philosophical villain of this novel is, if anything, a little underwritten as far as ruthlessness goes.
The Thief reminded me in very different ways of both Barry Eisler's first couple of John Rain novels, Rain Fall and Hard Rain because of the Tokyo setting and the attentiveness to detail in the various criminal operations the Thief is involved in, and the sad but yearning tones of Banana Yoshimoto's latest novel (in English) The Lake. And that's not a combination you see everyday.