Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Thief - Fuminori Nakamura

The Thief is narrated by a compulsive pick pocket who steals beyond his needs and although being at the centre of the book there are a number of interesting characters floating around, off camera so to speak with lives which we are only given a glimpse of, most prominently is, Saeko, who the thief has had a relationship with in the past. The novel was awarded the 2010 Oe Kenzaburo Prize, and translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, as of yet it's the only winner of the prize that has been translated into English, Yu Nagashima, who was awarded the prize in 2007 with Yuko-chan no Chikamichi has been translated into Spanish, and Toshiki Okada who was awarded the prize in 2008 for, Watashitachi ni Yurusareta Tokubetsu na Jikan no Owari, has been translated into German. Although quite a slight book its dimensions are at times broad, and in some ways its a novel of two parts, or perhaps a number of shifting perspectives of befores and afters. The thief, (in one quick scene his real name is revealed as Nishimura, is it?), is involved in a burglary where the real target is not money but a cache of documents, the crime involves himself, two men he knows and has a history with, but is organised by a bigger gang, headed by Kizaki who he is not familiar with but the money is good, although money seems to have relatively little value to him. After the burglary they are told  to leave Tokyo, parts of the narrative is made of the thief's memories of his friend Ishikawa, (whom he sees with a touch of sentiment, as being a master pick pocketeer), that drift back prior to the burglary, Ishikawa's history eclipses but falls short with that of the narrator's in the present tense, as we learn that Ishikawa was killed after the burglary by Kizaki.
Another story line that arises is that of the thief's relationship with a young boy who he observes stealing in a supermarket, noticing that the boy is being watched by the store detective, he lets the boy and his mother know that they have been seen, afterwards the boy attaches himself to the narrator following him to his apartment, the narrator falls into being a somewhat reluctant father figure to the boy giving him money to buy the items on a list given to him by his mother, rather than letting him to continue stealing them. The boy's mother works as a hostess, albeit as a slightly free agent, she provokes his memories of Saeko, and more details of their relationship begin to emerge. Kizaki re-appears with the request, (more of deadly ultimatum which potentially involves the boy and his mother), that the narrator carries out a couple of pick pocketing jobs for him. Whilst Kizaki sounds him out about the details of the two jobs, he relates a story about a French nobleman and a boy whose fate he chooses to control, in the story the malevolent nobleman orchestrates events in the boys life throughout his life as he gets older, the story sounds like it could have been lifted from the writings of de Sade but it presents an interesting conundrum about the nature of fate which is mirrored in the relationship between Kizaki and the thief, and also by a further extension between the thief and the boy that he is trying to steer onto the right path, it's an interesting moment in the novel, juxtaposing the harsh nature of fate whilst also pointing to Sartre's famous quotation: 'We are our choices'.

In some ways and places the novel is slightly formulaic, the omnipotent knowledge of the evil Kizaki reminded me slightly of Koyama in Matsuura's Triangle, but this aspect is redeemed in that the novel's concerns supersede them and creates a space to contemplate these themes and portrayals, and ultimately their consequences, there's a scene where the thief contemplates a scene from his school days, where the thief takes a valuable watch which breaks and his teacher scolds him by chastising that it was: Too good for trash like you!, and this comes across as being central to the book, a portrait of the distortion of values in a society where value is held or only estimated in material worth, by thieving the thief is attempting to escape or transcend these values, or in addition to deny their worth, and to keep that cryptic tower at bay.

The Thief at Soho Press and also Corsair

for Oe Kenzaburo Prize page at Kodansha         

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