Monday, April 6, 2015

book review: Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

The backstory: Dear Thief is on the 2015 Baileys Prize longlist.

The basics: As the title implies, Dear Thief is written in the form of a long letter to a someone who has stolen something from the letter writer. The details of their relationship and the theft slowly play out over the course of the novel.

My thoughts: Dear Thief is the third novel by Samantha Harvey and the third to be longlisted for the Baileys Prize. Thus she's an author who has been on my radar for some time, but it's my first time reading her. To say it was a complicated reading experience would be an understatement. Rating Dear Thief was challenging for me, as I have an almost ambiguous feeling toward it. There were parts that were so brilliant and unusual, I was confident this novel could be a five-star read. Then there were parts that felt boring and unnecessary that had be thinking of abandoning it or fearing it might be only a three-star read. The reading experience had its ups and downs, just as its narrator had her ups and downs. Whether or not that was intentional, I can't say, but I have enough respect for Harvey's writing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

In many ways Dear Thief is an idea novel. It's inspired by the Leonard Cohen song "Famous Blue Raincoat," and if you're familiar with the song, you know it's written as a letter to the party who broke up a marriage. And Dear Thief isn't necessarily a novel about the reveal or reveals. Its strengths are the idea of its form and Harvey's writing. Its weakness is that the form doesn't stand up to scrutiny in reality. Do I believe a wife could write a 270-page meandering letter to the woman who broke up her marriage? Absolutely. Do I believe this wife, at this point in her life, cared enough to do so? No. Perhaps that judgment is unfair, but I couldn't quite shake it. A letter like that should have more passion, more rage, more sadness. It should have more emotion or more something. Despite the writing and moments of perfection, and despite the weaknesses, I'm glad I read Dear Thief. I see why some praise it, and I see why some abandon it. I fall somewhere in between, but I'm certainly going to be reading Harvey's other two novels, and the next one she writes.

Favorite passage: "Your moods were the stuff of legend, and that day your mood could only be described as dangerous--languorous, facetious, self-absorbed; you were amused by yourself and this was the worst of all possible states. because it was the kind of amusement I imagine Calaphas felt when he made a deal with the Devil."

The verdict: Harvey's writing is extraordinary, and her characters are interesting, yet many times I thought of abandoning this novel. I didn't, and I'm glad I persevered, but at the end I felt as though I'd read a writing exercise, albeit a good one, rather than a novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Dear Thief from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Samantha Harvey's website

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1 comment:

  1. I find telling a story via letter such an interesting idea. Letters are such a passive form of communication that they just don't work for every story, though!


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