BookBrowse Reviews The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

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The Good Thief

A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti X
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2009, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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An adventure tale with a good dose of Gothic finery

Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, calls The Good Thief "a lightning strike of a novel," and Hannah Tinti "a twenty-first-century Robert Louis Stevenson, an adventuress who lays bare her characters' hearts with a precision and a fearlessness that will leave you shaken." Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, calls it a masterpiece and "a beautifully composed work of literary magic," the kind of book "you wish everyone in the world would read". You could hardly cast a wider net – unless you tossed Danielle Steel and Thomas Pynchon into the mix. So I must admit, I was intrigued before I even cracked the cover. Scarcely thirty pages in, I realized what I suspected was true: this is the book that everyone will love this summer. Not just you, but your teenage daughter, your 12-year-old grandson, your mother or grandmother... it's hard to think of someone that won't be taken with this lovely little book. An adventure tale with a good dose of Gothic finery, The Good Thief is refreshingly old-fashioned, wonderfully strange, and darkly funny. It's suspenseful and grim, but you can still read it before bed, and its charm is quirky enough to keep it from ever becoming twee.

Hannah Tinti embellishes her story with delicious detail, dropping the reader into each scene with a quick, sure-footed flourish of evocative nouns and metaphors. Boatyards, graveyards, a mouse-trap factory, and a cast of unforgettable characters; each come alive instantly, as if sprung from the pages of an Edward Gorey pop-up book. While most of the characters are drawn in varying degrees of richly imagined broad strokes, our orphan protagonist Ren is deeply developed and complex, allowing Tinti to fashion a fairy-tale style around an emotionally resonant center. Ren is instantly lovable, and Tinti absolutely nails his young character with surprising and moving details. Early in the novel, Ren struggles to find a way to say goodbye to the orphanage he grew up in and dreamed of leaving for so long, and Tinti offers up a ceremony most fitting of a 12-year-old boy:

"All he'd ever wanted was to leave, but now as was about to, he felt uneasy. He walked over to the high brick wall surrounding the buildings and pressed his wet palm against it. The masonry felt as thick and substantial as ever. "Good-bye," he said. But it didn't seem like enough. So he kicked the wall, as hard as he could. The impact made the bones in his leg shake. He stood there panting for a moment, then limped away, his toe throbbing inside his boot."

Unfortunately, the second half of The Good Thief doesn't quite measure up to the great promise of the first. As the plot progresses it wavers dangerously between delightful quirkiness and hokum, resting mostly with the latter by the novel's end. As Tinti pushes forward she loses some of the reader's prized emotional connection with Ren, and the novel ultimately ends up feeling a little ridiculous. Still, the thread of suspense holds up, and Tinti's prose and observations remain beautiful throughout, which makes it easy to forgive any missteps in the plot. All in all, The Good Thief probably won't change your life, but it will remind you of the up-all-night-with-a-flashlight novels of your childhood that, in some way, did.

First Impressions
Eighteen BookBrowse members reviewed this book for First Impressions, rating it an average of 4.5 out of 5.  You can read their comments here.

Reviewed by Lucia Silva

This review was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the August 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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