Dear Thief

Samantha Harvey

I saw this book on a giveaway pile and initially ignored it. In concept, it sounded somehow weak, comprised of a letter a woman writes to a friend who disappeared years ago, a letter largely about a betrayal that seemingly lead to their estrangement. Yet the power of this book is its lyrical writing and philosophical asides. There is a story revealed through the letter writer’s reminiscences, but as the pages collect, it seems less like a communication than something else. For one thing she invents a whole life for her friend, nicknamed Butterfly, and describes in detail the cabin in the woods where she imagines Butterfly lives. Late in the book (letter), she writes:

I wonder if not being able to see ourselves is one of the great paradoxes of being alive — knowing oneself intimately and also not at all. You turn to look at your own profile in the mirror and it is gone. It means we can harbour all kinds of illusions about ourselves that others can see through as clear as day.

There are a lot of beautiful passages that I found myself dog-earing pages to be able to find again later.

Happiness doesn’t come in the way I expected; not a massing of good things over time, but a succession of small, strange and unowned moments — the sun makes a hot oblong on the bedroom floor and I stand in it with my eyes closed. The coriander germinates in the window box and up comes the seedling. The bled radiators stop knocking at night. Just after the first bar of Coltrane’s ‘Naima’ I’m reminded of ‘Ruby, My Dear’ and at the end of ‘Ruby, My Dear’ I’m reminded suddenly of Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’. New connections! As if the world’s hands are joined. I spent over half my life waiting for the accumulation of happiness and then I realised that it doesn’t accumulate at all, it just occurs here and there, like snow that falls and never settles. Not the drifts that you and I imagined we would plough ourselves into, but instead gently, opportunistically, holding one’s tongue out to catch the flakes.