Butterfly: settling on nothing, at the window pane basking or trying to get out, batting at the light as if baffled by this lovely form that is (so it thinks) some fragile decoration of its ugliness.
Night after night, the narrator sits at her desk, trying to unravel, not what happened, since both of them know this already (although, of course, the reader can only piece this together over time), or even why, but rather what it means to be betrayed by two people she loved. The novel-length letter (although narrated in the first person, it’s another example of the ‘you’ point of view) becomes the vehicle for an outpouring of her sense of abandonment, her resentment, rage, grief and guilt.
And her eloquence! She tells us she writes as it comes, not going back to edit or alter; but her consciousness follows an extremely lyrical stream. For example, she says of her husband (p43):
He knew he had some lonely and pedantic habits that hardly needed a psychologist’s eye to be seen for what they were – digging in the soil, scratching at limestone for fossils, mudlarking on the shores of the Thames for washed-up trinkets. Each boy needs his father; those who have lost hope of ever having one never stop looking for something else instead.
Marriage is a construct easily put together, and painstakingly dismantled. The law makes it this way. To prise it apart, legally speaking, you have to take to it with a sledgehammer as if it were your worst enemy you were obliterating, and not the remains of your tenderest dreams. Not the little patch of fertile ground your only child sprang from.
Overall, it’s about the push and pull of attachment, of our deep desire for connection and fear of what that connection can bring. Yet the narrator’s relationships with minor characters seemed more real than with her erstwhile friend – although that might well have been the point! When so many readers seem to want the same superficial story served up again and again, I have to congratulate Jonathan Cape (to whom thanks for my review copy) for publishing such a cerebral novel. Yet, while by no means a difficult read, Dear Thief joins the couple of other novels that I didn’t quite get. Perhaps I need to take a course on philosophy (or at least reread Norah’s helpful posts on the topic) before this talented writer brings out her next work of fiction?