I didn’t love The Thief but it’s one that will definitely stay with me. It’s not my typical tale: a story about an almost nameless career petty thief heisting wallets that shifts between the past and the present. In the past, he did a controversial job for some heavy hitter criminals in Japanese society and now he’s on the run. In the present, he’s done running and is getting by with thieving when he meets a poor boy and his mother, the former of whom he takes under his wing, the latter he has sex with seemingly out of pity.
Because there’s precious little back story on the thief himself, I couldn’t get into this as much as I would have liked. It made the stakes feel too low. However, it seems like the story is really just a set up for Fuminori Nakamura to ruminate on fate and power. Normally, that’s not my thing. I’m a substance-over-style kind of guy who just wants to read a good tale. But since this book is slim, and Nakamura’s prose steady, I found myself immersed in what he was trying to say.
“The Thief” basically functions as a stand in for our own position in the universe and asks how much free will do we really have when we’re trapped in a cycle of power and violence perpetuated by people. He is the unseen hand in crimes that appear on news, the faceless foot soldier. But he too is beholden to the machinations of fate, with a destiny out of his control. Like I said, I didn’t like this one much but I feel like I could talk about it for hours. There are good books that don’t hold my attention in this way.
Semi-relevantly: this book is another reminder of how great Japanese crime fiction is. Between Seicho Matsumoto, Natsuo Kirino and Hideo Yokoyama, I’ve read some talented writers and perhaps I need to find more translations of works from the Land of the Rising Sun.