Friday, 12 October 2012

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

I had never heard of Hannah Tinti but as with all open-minded readers, I am always searching for new authors especially of modern fiction.  This is a double-edged process, sometimes resulting in a find that so enriches your life that you seek out everything that writer has ever produced; sometimes, you end up reading something particularly dire which is a drudge to get through and a relief to finish.

Fortunately for Hannah Tinti, she provided in The Good Thief an excellent story which will stay with me for a long time; imaginative and moving.

It tells the story of Ren who is delivered to the doors of St Anthony's orphanage, a baby with one hand only, a meagre scrap of a thing.  There is nothing that the boys of St Anthony's want more than for a family to arrive one day and remove them to a place of safety and comfort.

And one day, someone arrives for Ren, a man called Benjamin Nab who claims to be his brother.  The brothers who run the orphanage let Ren go with him and Ren is transported into a world where he is required to earn his keep and not in the most honest ways.  In fact, some of them are quite macabre.

Ren is a likeable character with a lot of spirit for such a young lad.  Perhaps that is the consequence of his start in life.  He soon fits in with Benjamin and Tom, the drunken ex-schoolteacher who is his sidekick.  And in their adventures, they meet some highly enjoyable characters that reminded me of Dickens in the way that they are distinct and almost verging on caricature.

There is a lot of brutality in this book; Ren befriends a murderer who is like an automaton, built for killing except when he is around Ren.  There are men who chase after our heroes who have no qualms about dismembering, maiming and other collected methods of savagery.  This all adds to your eagerness as a reader for Ren to come out of it safely and find a more stable life.

What Tinti does really well is create characters who are doing bad things but are doing them in order to survive in a harsh, unyielding world.  Her narrative is full of sympathy for them and the fact that most of the time, they are just doing enough to get by.

Next on my reading list will be Animal Crackers, a book of short stories by the same author which have also met with as much praise and I must say that I am mightily looking forward to it.

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