The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti

Finishing this book has left me in quite a predicament. I feel the need to write a review for this book even though it didn’t particularly leave me feeling anything but ‘meh’. If I were more invested in this type of story, I’d say that this book offended me with all the ways that the characters and plot weren’t used enough. As it is, ‘offended’ is too strong a word for this review.

I found this book at a library sale and had heard of it before and because descriptions of it included phrases like ‘wonderfully written’, ‘classic adventure tale’ and ‘reminiscent of Dickens and Stevenson’, I shoved it onto my pile of books. Maybe my enjoyment of the book suffered from hearing such high praise but while this is very beautifully written, I didn’t find it so great as the hype suggested.

I really can’t stress how amazing the writing was, however. I will actively see out other works by this author just to read more of the words she strings together. They have a very authentic quality to them, they flow well and somehow feel good going through your mind. There’s no purple prose, nothing feels rushed, and every word seemed to me like the perfect word to describe the situation. Each character had a distinct way of speaking that seemed natural to who they were.

Seriously. Amazing writing.

But.

I never thought I’d say it, but there’s only so much really awesome writing can do. The main character, Ren, is a young boy who lost his hand when he was a baby, grew up in an orphanage run by monks, has never known his family, sees endless friends taken away and adopted while he knows he probably will not because of his lack of hand, is finally adopted by a man, Benjamin, who tells the monks they are brothers, then poor Ren finds out shortly after that they are not brothers and he probably can’t trust anything Benjamin says… This is a lot to happen to a boy who’s about twelve years old and not a bit of it gave me any sympathy for Ren. There seemed to be a wall up that kept me from connecting to him. A lot of that seemed to be because Ren didn’t particularly show many emotions. He was a very quiet character that chose between options quite often but we rarely see him acting as a twelve year old would act in a dangerous situation.

Benjamin had a very distinct personality, and a rather cliché one at that. Think straight-laced Captain Jack Sparrow. Benjamin is a very charming, good-looking, intelligent thief. He can spin stories and lies with ease and is the most unreliable character to get information from. I’ve got to hand it to Tinti, though. For most authors, Benjamin would be the main character. She definitely went against type a bit by not having him be the main focus character. I have, however, seen this type done much better. I never cared about Benjamin, either.

To save time: I didn’t care about any of the characters. There was enough building to tell you a bit about each of them but I never needed to know what happened to them or hoped that they would come out okay in the end. Tom and Dolly were two other characters that were, apparently, important to the story but Tom’s main contribution was getting drunk and I never quite figured out Dolly.

*SPOILER*
Was he supposed to be a sociopath, mentally ill, autistic? I spent the entire time wondering and it was never answered so it took me out of the story every time he showed up and did something befuddling.
*END SPOILER*

So, yea, the characters were problematic for me. I didn’t dislike or like them. They were meh.

The story… was passable. I’ve read others like this and enjoyed them a lot. It suffered from the same thing that the characters did. It was all on the surface. Sure, we were being taken on a ride but we never spent enough time at any place to really appreciate it. As basic points on a story map it should have been amazing. A boy searching for his place, an inn as a home setting, an unreliable source of information… and speaking of that unreliable source. Now, I won’t get into specifics here so it won’t ruin anything but Benjamin lies throughout this entire book and has tells he gives so that you know he’s lying. Whether he’s spinning a story to captors or telling Ren a piece of information that he then says is incorrect, Benjamin never once tells the truth. Then right at the end, a piece of information comes from him and it feels like the author wants us to know it’s genuine. He doesn’t take it back or smirk or anything but it’s a big part of Ren’s story and it’s coming from Benjamin so I’m left not knowing whether she meant it to be true. Yes, I know, he’s unreliable and that’s a point against it but this is something that would be particularly cruel if he were lying and, while he lies and steals quite a bit, he’s never once been really cruel to Ren. The more I thought about it, the more it felt like that moment was a bit of a slap in the face to either the reader or Ren. So just some advice: don’t use an unreliable character to deliver a fact that you want the reader to know.

So, there it is. My review. Writing it still hasn’t helped me solve the puzzle of my detachment from this story. By all accounts, it should have been right up my alley but something didn’t click. It never felt finished.

That's it.

I know exactly what it is about this book. It reads more like a short story. A very long short story, sure, but a short story, nonetheless. I really, really don’t like short stories. If I were forced to read 100 short stories, I might come away from it liking one or two of them but mostly I’d just wanna find the jerk who made me read them and break one of their fingers. Now, there are some short stories I adore. Most I just think of as a waste of an idea for a book.

You know the relief you feel when there’s one little item of information you’ve been trying to remember and, finally, after hours, it comes to you? That’s how I feel right now.

This book was like a short story.