Friday night was Bookclub night – we’re a tiny group, just four of us booksters. We’ve been meeting for a few years, changing size and shape over that time as members have prioritised trivialities (like having babies or moving to Australia). These ex- members are no longer referred to as booksters and we feel free to discuss their past book choices with disdain.
Book: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Host: yours truly
It occurred to me as we tucked into sushi and chatted book, that feeling protective over one’s book choice might be natural. I struggled to keep my face friendly and smiley as a fellow bookster declared how much she hated what I liked most about the book. I shall call her ‘bookster number two’ as her opinion was (insert appropriate emoji..). Now I should mention that I am known for having an uncontrollably expressive face. In fact, two Bookclubs back, bookster number two said “I don’t have to ask what Vanessa thought, I can tell by her face”. Clearly revenge for me disliking her last choice. That must be the explanation because the voice of Nao, our young Japanese narrator and diarist was not much short of brilliant.
Teenage voices can be hard to get right when your own teens are more than a decade behind you. Nao (pronounced now) is funny and heart-breaking and selfish and isolated in the way that only a bullied teenager with a secret inner life can be. Ozeki nails it. I laughed out loud and winced my way through her stream of musings. Clever and insightful with footnotes explaining Japanese words and popular culture. I’ll never sit on public transport again without playing spot the Hentai.
I’m not always a fan of footnotes in a novel, they can feel like an interruption, but in this case they really add to the enjoyment. I won’t say much about the plot. The narrative alternates between British Columbia and Japan. A Canadian writer named Ruth finds a diary inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of the Island where she lives. Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao’s story and desperate to know what happened to her. Throw into the mix a Buddhist nun, a kamikaze pilot, a depressed father and a bunch of Zen and you have this enjoyable, multi themed novel. It has its flaws, possibly too many ideas for its own good, an infuriating dream sequence – I hate dream sequences in whatever form they come, be it novel or film. Even out of the mouths of friends, I have no interest unless it exposes you as a deviant of the first order, and even then it can be summed up in a few words, no sequence required.
There’s much to love in this novel, I would certainly recommend it, I enjoyed it more than (more…)