Jim Grimsley's Reviews > The Thief's Journal

The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet
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I'm mindful here that the rating is about how much I liked the book, not necessarily how good it is. That it is a good book, a great book, is already established. That it was a groundbreaking book is clear from reading anything about it by its many critics, Sartre among them. I don't dispute any of that. The insistence that the pursuit of evil, of criminality, is a proper literary topic did not begin with Genet but he certainly displays a passion for it. I admired the prose once I gave over to the flow of the book, the fluidity of its shifts in time. Its lyricism is phenomenal. At one point Genet points a finger and says you, the reader, are probably outraged by this book, but I did not intend it as an outrage. I had to stop and wonder what he meant by that, and did not believe his assertion; I think he puffed himself up about the outrage, I think that was the point. The author is a strange beast, intensely self-absorbed. Knowing that this book is autobiographical made me read it differently. In Querelle, for instance, I was not disturbed by the feeling of an underworld. I read the book as a dream, a reverie, a kind of fantasy, and thought it grand. But this book touches onto reality and so I struggled with what Genet claimed for himself, his insistence on telling me his world was different from my world, his morality different from mine. I wasn't exactly sure why he had to say so over and over again, and I wondered whether it was true, since the kind of predation and thievery he extols is pervasive, and is certainly not limited to the people he knew as petty thieves and shake-down artists. The commonplace morality of virtue that he disdains is neither as easy nor as mundane as this book asserts. I had a queasy reaction to the passages about the luring of homosexuals into hotel rooms and surprising them by taking their money, beating them, and worse. It was all too conventional to take advantage of the weakness and vulnerability of these people, and not particularly heroic. So I wondered where was the dazzlement, exactly. There is the one passage late in the book when he discusses, after his writing has been published and his fame has begun, planning to rob one of the writers he has met. If this were simply a novel I could judge the character more distantly, and might find this moment to be effective. But this was actually Genet speaking of himself in a work that is supposed to describe his life. This is a man I am glad I never met in a dark alley.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 21, 2021 – Shelved

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