THE THIEF -- an existential crime masterpiece that follows a Japanese pickpocket lost to the machinations of fate
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura (2013, Soho Press; 211 pages)
The unnamed protagonist of Fuminori Nakamura’s brisk, beautiful, dreamlike literary crime masterpiece is a thief, a smooth-as-silk Tokyo pickpocket who glides his way through the flow of humanity in a near trance, lifting wallets from unsuspecting strangers with a masterful ease. He’s so smooth, it’s as if he isn’t there at all. Sometimes, he doesn’t even remember the pockets he’s picked. Most of the people he meets are just a blur to him. He has no friends or family, no connections other than a former partner and a long-dead lover, until the day he sees a young boy and his prostitute mother clumsily shoplifting in a supermarket.
When that former partner reappears in his life with a job offer he can’t refuse, the thief becomes entangled in the clutches of a supreme criminal mastermind, a seemingly all-powerful force that robs and murders and decides men’s fates with an almost cheerful capriciousness.
Nakamura’s Tokyo is not a Lost-In-Translation, glittery, neon-pulsing city filled with karaoke clubs and bleeding-edge technology. In this Japan, the neon bulbs have fizzled, the karaoke bars replaced by writhing sex clubs, and the bubblegum girls have grown up to become haggard single mothers turning tricks in cheap tracksuits.
Infused with a bleak, existential dread, The Thief is part Camus, part Donald Westlake, with heavy doses of Kafka and Dostoyevski. Nakamura’s writing is spare, almost Hemingwayesque, but filled with an elegance all his own. This is a haunting, fast-paced work that will stay with you long after you finish it.
From The Thief:
I breathed in gently and held it, pinched the corner of the wallet and pulled it out. A quiver ran from my fingertips to my shoulder and a warm sensation gradually spread throughout my body. I felt like I was standing in a void, as though with the countless intersecting lines of vision of all those people, not one was directed at me. Maintaining the fragile contact between my fingers and the wallet, I sandwiched it in the folded newspaper. Then I transferred the paper to my right hand and put it in the inside pocket of my own coat. Little by little I breathed out, conscious of my temperature rising even more. I checked my surroundings, only my eyes moving. My fingers still held the tension of touching a forbidden object, the numbness of entering someone’s personal space. A trickle of sweat ran down my back. I took out my cell phone and pretended to check my email as I walked away.
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Recommended by: Greg