Ruth, a novelist living on the tiny, rural island of Whaletown, Canada, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox wrapped in a plastic bag on the seashore. She dismisses it as garbage since the beach is often covered with trash and takes it home to dispose of it later.
However, her inquisitive husband, Oliver, opens it and finds a collection of handwritten letters, an antique wristwatch, and Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu. Ruth is surprised to find that the novel conceals the diary of Nao, a sixteen-year-old Japanese girl. As she starts reading it, Nao’s story captivates her. Through this diary, Ruth finds herself connected to Nao in an unexpected way.
The story within the story format of this novel chronicles the lives of three people—Nao, Jiko (Nao’s great-grandmother and a 104-year-old Buddhist nun), and Ruth. The lively, first-person perspective of Nao’s narrative, written in colloquial language, gave me an intimate view of Nao’s life. I could acutely feel her disorientation after being uprooted from her home, and her trauma on being bullied.
This contrasts with the subdued, third-person perspective of Ruth’s story. Both Ruth and Nao are troubled people, and it is Jiko’s patience and wisdom that help them battle their problems.
Besides the story, Ozeki’s writing style is a close contender for beguiling the reader.
Besides the story, Ozeki’s writing style is a close contender for beguiling the reader.Tweet
She beautifully plays with the meaning and sound of words and employs descriptive language to produce stunning imagery.
The slow-paced plot allows the reader to absorb every word. I wanted to read the book as fast as I could, but I also wanted to slow down and savor each word and let those words touch my soul.
Nevertheless, the climax left me cold. After diligently reading through 400 pages to get answers to some pertinent questions, I was irked to find that Ozeki uses parallel universe and quantum physics to tie up the loose ends. This was incomprehensible to me. Throughout the book, I was reading about a young girl’s troubled life that resonates with a struggling novelist. Suddenly, Ozeki lobbed science-fiction at me which, I felt, was incongruous with this novel. However, I will still recommend it to people who love reading intense and genre-defying fictional works. Themes of suicide and bullying make it inappropriate for a young audience.
Kindle Edition, 433 pages, Published March 11th, 2013, by Canongate Books