_The Thief_, with spoilers galore--extra long for your enjoyment

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Mar 9 16:26:30 EST 2002


On Fri, 8 Mar 2002 22:03:35 +0800, Anita Graham wrote:

>
>
>>> _The Thief_, or Why I Don't Like Cheating
>> a long, mumbling and juicy ramble
>> by Melissa Proffitt
>>
>
>Thanks Melissa, you answered so many of my questions only moments after I
>asked them. (OK, I hadn't read ahead in the list. Smack hand).
>
>But,
>
>> >But what about Gen's taking the stone from the mage and hiding it in his
>> >hair without telling the reader, allowing the reader to believe it's been
>> >lost?  In omnisecent voice that would be fine, but in a first person that
>> >strikes me as somehow selling the reader short.
>
>But doesn't that make Gen an unreliable narrator. He's been unreliable for
>everyone else, why not for us too. Especially as we're just readers of a
>history book. He's perhaps read enough of them (Euclid?) to want to make one
>interesting!
>
>(If this is NOT what's meant by an unreliable narrator, I apologise and
>admit that I haven't studied EngLit since I left high school, a VERY long
>time ago.)

An unreliable narrator is one whose understanding or perception may be in
error, but this almost always refers to the narrator's account of what he
perceives about others' actions.  Narrators can be unreliable for a number
of reasons, including personal naivete, misunderstanding, retardation (see
Benjy in _The Sound and the Fury_) or other mental problems.  In cases where
the narrator is unreliable because he's deliberately deceptive, there are
contextual clues to indicate that the reader ought not to take the narrator
at his word.

But this brings up an interesting question that really hasn't been
addressed:  What do you think _The Thief_ is meant to be?  Is this a history
novel?  A story Gen is telling in a bar somewhere (as I think someone
mentioned)? Or the blow-by-blow account that we as readers get to see as it
unfolds?  I lean toward the third, mainly because I don't see any evidence
that it's intended to be otherwise, but if you read it another way, that
changes the set of expectations you bring to the book.  Like, for example,
the Vlad Taltos novels; in one or two of the later (i.e. written later, not
internal chronology later) books, there are scenes where Vlad is talking to
a "little box" that appears to be a kind of recording device from our time,
and the "story" is his account as he tells it after the fact.  This allows
Steven Brust to make references to ironic foreshadowings that
Vlad-as-storyteller knows, though Vlad-as-actor didn't at the time.  It
changes the perception of what the account is.

>> It's the issue of Hamiathes's Gift that I see as cheating, and
>> I'll tell you
>> why.  The structural climax of the novel happens at the moment that Gen
>> reveals that he's had the stone the whole time everyone thought
>> it was lost.
>> In order for this to be the climax, *the reader can't know the
>> truth*.  The
>> reader has to be just as surprised as the magus and Sophos in
>> order for the
>> climax to retain its emotional impact.  In order to do this, Turner has to
>> manipulate the first-person POV and take advantage of the reader's
>> assumptions.
>>
>
>But I thought the climax of the novel was also involved with Gen's
>identity - just revealing who he is, although by the time you get there you
>are not entirely surprised.

That's sort of why I think the true climax is handing over the stone,
because I personally think it was easier to figure out who Gen was than to
figure out what he'd done.  Sort of a double McGuffin to make sure there's
something to surprise everyone except Robyn.  :)

>Gen doesn't tell us everything he does or doesn't do. For instance, while
>its clear that he's furious enough at being blamed for stealing food that he
>nearly reveals more of himself than he intends, the issue is left there,
>it's not followed through, at that time, to find out where and why the food
>has gone. In fact, he never states explicitly that he didn't steal the food.
>Yet, his reactions - frightening the magus and Pol when he no longer acts
>the thief, and suddenly being very competent with his horse - are more clues
>for us as to his true identity.

Yes, and I do think his identity is more foreshadowed than the other.
But--back to the question above--who exactly is he hiding his actions from?
If we, the readers, are invisible flies on the wall, how does he know to
hide his actions from us?  To borrow a theater term, throughout most of the
book there's a "fourth wall" that makes the reader an observer standing
outside the story.  We don't exist for him; he should either hide everything
or nothing from us.  (Although I thought of a good No-Prize justification;
we don't see it because he's just that good. :)

>> _The Queen of Attolia_, thank heaven, doesn't have the same problem.  In
>> fact, it impresses me no end, quite aside from the fierce emotional
>> attachment I developed to it.  It is on the short list of my desert island
>> books (though to be honest, if I were stuck on a desert island
>> with only the
>> books I couldn't live without, I could build myself a two-room
>> bungalow with
>> those books alone).  I think Turner is an author to watch.
>>
>
>Well I'll have to read it again. Just to find out.
>
>Anita the superficial, I'm afraid.

You're not superficial!  How could you be having this discussion if you
were?

Melissa Proffitt
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