The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

theifThis is one of the hardest types of books to review.  I liked it.  I think it’s basically good.  But I’m not crazy about it–to be honest I just liked it.

It’s not bad.  It’s pretty good really.  Interesting enough story.  Well done characterization.  Themes that typically interest me.  Good writing, in translation by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates.  Thrilling enough to keep me reading but not enough to make it a page-turner.

Reminded me of Pick-up on South Street, (1953) starring Richard Widmark, directed by Sam Fuller, one of my favorite noir films.  A darn good one, too.  You should see it.  It’s about a pick-pocket who gets in over his head just like The Theif.  

So, here I am in the Starbucks next to Planet Fitness, post “work out”, trying to think of something to say when I don’t really have anything pressing I want to say.

The narrator/anti-hero of The Thief is a pickpocket in modern day Japan.  In the best parts of the novel he gives us detailed instruction on how to steal.  He’s so good at it that a crime boss from his past seeks him out to perform a couple of very difficult jobs.  When one of these ends in the murder of a very powerful man, the thief knows he has become involved in something that can only end with his death.

This makes the book a lot like Pick-up on South Street which features a pick-pocket who becomes involved in a plot to see secrets to the Soviet Union.  When the thief prevents a boy from getting caught stealing food in a supermarket The Thief becomes a lot like Drive by James Sallis.  (The terrific 2011 movie version was directed by  Nicolas Winding Refn and starred Ryan Gosling.)  In these two a low-level criminal meets his end by trying to rescue a woman and her young son.

So that’s how I review a book like this one, one that I basically liked but just barely, by talking about similar things that I loved.


This book counts as number 14 in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge and as book number one in the Japanese Literature Reading Challenge.

5 thoughts on “The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

  1. I was a little nonplussed by this one too. I liked it at first, while reading it, but then, a couple of days afterwards, I realised it did not leave a huge impression. It’s not really a thriller, but it’s not enough of a twisted psychological tale either.

  2. I like your approach here James! More often than not I skip talking about books because I find I don’t have a lot to say about them. Maybe I just need to open up a blank screen and just let myself…talk.

    1. I have basically made that vow to “review” all the books I read. I do try to have something to say, but why not be honest and just admit it when we’re stuck. Every one knows the feeling.

Comments are closed.