The end of the year was a very “Cormac McCarthy” time for me. I read through both The Road and No Country for Old Men in addition to catching the divisive
The Counselor in theaters. So when I stumbled upon The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura and read a review comparing it to McCarthy’s works, I was intrigued. Although I didn’t know whether it would be derivative or fresh, I decided to pull the trigger and take a chance on a book I knew nothing about.
Nakamura’s novel follows an unnamed thief as he pickpockets his way through life on the streets of Tokyo. Classic noir elements create a palpable feeling of tension throughout the story but they do not overshadow the characters or their thoughts. There is still room for reflection as we follow our sometimes aimless protagonist as he relates the shadowy underworld in which he exists.
The comparisons that can be drawn between Nakamura’s work and McCarthy’s are many. The action of the tale is all the result of a “job gone bad” that takes place prior to the main story. Flashbacks tell us our hero’s recollection of events, his fears and misgivings, and his constant struggle with the morality of his choices. This sort of reflection echoes McCarthy’s style in a way that is familiar but also avoids feeling copy-cat. Like both No Country For Old Men and The Counselor, this sort of dialogue can seem a bit stilted at times. However, it fits perfectly into the world the author creates.
Characters in this fictional Tokyo struggle constantly with the idea of fate. While I doubt Biblical morality was an inspiration for the book, themes concerning predetermination run through The Thief just as in McCarthy’s works, whether intentionally or not. The pickpocket has several conversations with the story’s antagonist on this subject, who gives a philosophical outlook that reminds the reader of Anton Chigurgh, though their ideas about fate are not identical.
Despite my comparison of The Thief to some of McCarthy’s works, the book does stand on its own. It’s a fast read, and not necessarily because of its length. Once you start following the pickpocket through the alleys and underground organizations of Tokyo, it’s hard to walk away. A feeling of constant and inevitable danger pervades Nakamura’s tale and, even though most readers will correctly determine the fate of his anti-hero, keeps its audience understandably engrossed.
Nakamura’s The Thief is a gripping tale. Normally, similar stories sacrifice character development and, ultimately, greater meaning for compelling action. This is not the case here. The story pulls the reader in while simultaneously picking out the correct moments for philosophical discussion of its own circumstances. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is both thoughtful and entertaining. I recommend it to anyone looking for a thrill.