Book Review: The Soul Thief

A few days ago, a friend posted the question: what do you do with a book where you don’t like any of the characters?
That question made me remember that I’d been meaning to review Charles Baxter’s book “The Soul Thief”.  Why had I put the review off for several months?  Well, mostly because I enjoy reviewing books that I like.
Charles Baxter writes some compelling prose and I was very interested in this tiny book with the intriguing title – you might even more appropriately call this book a novella.  In it, we follow the story of Nathaniel Mason, a graduate student in the early 1970s.  He forms a strange love triangle (quadrangle?) with a girl, a lesbian friend and the book’s antagonist who goes by the unlikely name of Jerome Coolberg.  The graduate students are insufferably pretentious – attempting to out-do one another with obscure cultural and literary references in painful intellectual pissing contests.  They are all thoroughly unlikeable.  Mason dislikes Coolberg, but can’t seem to escape his sphere of influence.  In fact, Coolberg becomes obsessed with the Nathaniel – his past, his friends, his stuff – in a sense tries to usurp his “self”.   Hence, the book’s title.

I kept rooting for Mason to man-up against his nemesis or at least ditch them or maybe for them all to be a little less annoying.   Alas, no such luck.  The story’s finale (I can’t really call it a climax) takes place in Los Angeles in the here and now where Mason & Coolberg meet again to come to terms with their past and intertwined existence.  The “twist” ending left me flat.
Two stars (and not one) for some great prose and turns of phrase, as well as the interaction between Mason and his sister which was the most real-feeling and emotionally-connected part of the story.
I am glad this was a short book.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Soul Thief

  1. I feel your pain. I felt the same way about Atonement. I ended up not finishing it and passing it onto a friend – who later asked me why I did that to her. She had to finish it. But felt the same.

  2. Wow, 2 stars? Sorry you had to read that…..LOL
    I liked the question. I thiink that disliking the characters is different than boring characters. If I dislike them I can still maybe find them interesting.

  3. cat — I also didn't like "The Kite Runner" all that much. I thought the prose was very lyrical, but I didn't like the characters and found it to be a very cliche' plot in an exotic locale.

  4. emmi — 2-stars happens every once in a while and the book was worth the chance. I do agree that unlikeable characters can be compelling, but everyone in this book was so annoying!

  5. I wasn’t sure about this book either, but I thought it was because I listened to it. I love all of his other books but this one I just really wasn’t sure about. At first I thought it was the ending that I didn’t like, but you’re right I really didn’t like any of the characters. Plus, it was pretentious! UGH! You’re so right all the way around.

    • Cassie — with a change in commute I’m listening to more audiobooks, so I’m intrigued about how some books may come across differently as compared to being on the page. Too bad that this one didn’t come across any better!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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