Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Good Thief (Wendy's Review)

He had no memory of a beginning – of a mother or father, sister or brother. His life was simply there, at Saint Anthony’s, and what he remembered began in the middle of things – the smell of boiled sheets and lye; the taste of watery oatmeal; the feel of dropping a brick onto a piece of stone, watching the red pieces split off, then using those broken shards to write on the wall of the monastery, and being slapped for this, and being forced to wash the dust away with a cold, wet rag. – from The Good Thief, page 4 -

Ren, missing a hand, has lived for eleven years at an orphanage in New England – a place where children are whipped for infractions and schooled in Catholic doctrine. His friendships are few and his questions are many. Then one day a man named Benjamin Nab arrives at Saint Anthony’s claiming to be Ren’s brother. His wild stories convince the authorities at the orphanage to let Benjamin adopt Ren – and thus begins Ren’s second life filled with grave robbery, violence, and lies. Along the way, Ren makes friends with a paid assassin, a dwarf, a landlady who has a heart of gold, a nun, and a drunkard. He also begins to uncover the mystery surrounding his birth.

The Good Thief is a fast read and filled with unexpected events and excitement. Hannah Tinti’s story is a bit Dickensonian, but with more violence. Ren’s character is likable (he is the good thief, in case you were wondering)…he wants to do good, but is forced to lie and steal to survive. The writing in the novel is clean and vivid.

But, despite these strengths, I did not really enjoy this book. At times I felt the plot was too contrived, and the violence overdone and gratuitous. The number of evil characters in the novel turned me off a bit. I found myself wanting a better life for Ren and wondering if there were any loving adults in his world. Luckily, Mrs. Sand (the landlady) ends up being someone who provides the love Ren has never known. And although Tinti redeems some of her “bad” characters, the novel overall was just too dark and depressing.

Many readers liked The Good Thief – in fact, it has won a host of awards including:

  • Winner, American Library Association Alex Award.
  • Winner, John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize 2008.
  • New York Times Notable Book of 2008.
  • Washington Post Best Books of 2008
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 50 Best Fiction & Poetry of 2008
  • Kirkus, Best Fiction of 2008 list
  • Nominee, 2008 Borders Original Voices AWard
  • One of the Best Books of 2008, Paste Magazine.
  • Indie Next list for September 2008.
  • Borders Original Voices pick for September 2008.
  • Featured Alternate of Book-of-the Month Club, Quality Paperback Book Club, and The Literary Guild.
  • Foreign Rights to The Good Thief have been sold in thirteen countries.
  • When I read through that list, I wonder if I was just not in the mood for this book at the time I read it. Reader’s who like fast-paced fiction and are not overly disturbed by graphic violence, might give this one a try.



    Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

    Love the review. At my blog, among other things, I review books by African writers.

    Kelly Moran said...

    wanted to pop in and say great blog. you should check out mine. i write, review, and interview authors. xo

    Diane said...

    This story really intrigues me. Great review.

    Wendy said...

    Nana and Kelly: Thanks for stopping by!

    Diane: Glad you enjoyed the review...hope you'll like the book.