Who Stole the end? – ‘The Thief’ by Fuminori Nakamura

I don’t know if it’s supposed to a clever postmodernist twist, but somebody seems to have stolen the ending of ‘The Thief’. The story is a first person narrative, and whilst the novel’s conclusion doesn’t quite break the number one rule of first person narratives, it ends in such a way to leave the reader bewildered as to how the story could ever have come be told. It’s an open end, but not in a good way. It’s open in a ‘why did you bother to tell the story, if you were going to leave it like that?’ way.

It’s a shame as the rest of the book is pretty good. The Thief is the the third Japanese crime novel I’ve read, and they all have a similar narrative style. Pared down prose, and unsensational storytelling that focuses on the frustrating details of life. None of them have felt particularly Japanese, and I suspect if names hade been changed I could happily have believed the story to be set in the US, UK or perhaps if you could imagine such a thing, Scandanavia. Some may consider this lack of a sense of place a drawback. I don’t particularly mind, as long as the story is strong.

Our narrator is a pickpocket, and his tale makes his crimes feel like magic. He’s a loner. He steals for money, he steals for fun, he steals for revenge. He even steals without realising it. The novel has a metaphysical thread running through it. The Thief occasionally narrates otherworldly events, that could not happen, yet he seems totally convinced of. These episodes combined with the spare prose, reminded me of James Sallis’, The Killer is Dying

The central story is old, but well told. The Thief is pulled into something bigger than he can handle. Something with political and gangster connections. He cannot escape the destiny mapped out for him. Despite the thief’s desire for isolation, he has one meaningful relationship in the world, and it is through this that the gangsters control him.

The Thief poses interesting questions about destiny and fate, and shows the perils of both forming emotional attachments and the futility of living life without them. The book is readable, but ultimately lightweight. It certainly isn’t a patch on The Devotion Of Suspect X a book I consider to be one of the finest crime novels written in the last decade. Nakamura has created an interesting, conflicted narrator, but his story fails delivers on its promise.

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