‘Dear Thief’ was one of the best novels published last year. So why haven’t you heard of it? Gaby Wood meets its author, Samantha Harvey: The Telegraph
Last year, when literary fiction seemed to fall either into the category of formal experiment (Ali Smith’s How to Be Both; Will Self’s Shark) or into an essentially 19th-century tradition (Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others; Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North), one book cut through all that by simply being intimate, direct yet oddly mysterious. Last Tuesday, it was longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction, a belated flicker of attention for a novel that deserves far more.
Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief was published last September to excellent reviews, and was, to my mind, one of the most beguiling novels of the year. It was the third book by an author whose 2009 debut had won significant prizes and seemed to promise further fame. It was published by Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape, arguably Britain’s most respected editor of literary fiction. It had the marketing and publicity machine of Penguin Random House behind it. Its cover – admittedly a sombre and indistinct affair – carried a blurb from Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, who referred to its “profound beauty”. In The New Yorker, the influential literary critic James Wood singled it out for a sustained hymn of praise, calling it “a beautiful, tentative success, a novel with no interest in conformity”. In short, Dear Thief couldn’t have had more going for it.