The OF Blog: Mizuki Nomura, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mizuki Nomura, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

Last week, I blogged about the question of whether or not someone outside a "native" culture could hope to understand elements of that other culture, specifically that culture's literature.  I decided a couple of days ago to put my money where my mouth is and read a wide-ranging array of books over the course of one week, with reviews to follow within 24 hours of completing that read.  One of the books I chose was an Advance Review Copy of a Japanese "light novel" that will be coming out in the United States in late July 2010.  It is called Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime and the author is Mizuki Nomura.  This book perhaps is the furthermost literary genre from my comfort zone, being that its primary audience are teenagers, more specifically teen girls and even more specifically teen girls in Japan and those in other countries who are steeped in Japanese anime and manga culture, if not products of the Japanese educational system.

I am barely familiar with anime or manga, only having started paying attention a couple of years ago and even then my reading has been very occasional and haphazard.  But instead of deterring me from completing this novel, I found myself becoming more and more curious about several of the novel's conceits, considering my near-total lack of background knowledge.  It certainly made for a read that likely differs in significant ways than what the book's target audience will experience.

The story is rather simple on the surface.  There is a third-year (or high school junior) female student named Touko Amano who is the self-described "book girl."  She literally devours stories, page by page and mouthful by mouthful.  In order to feed her insatiable appetite, she has drafted a second-year student, a male named Konoha Inoue, to write love letters, so she can taste their "sweetness."  This continues until a female first-year student, Chia Takeda seeks love advice.  From there, the story takes on elements of a mystery, as Touko and Konoha try to figure out who Chia's mysterious love interest might be and why she is also so drawn to Konoha and his appearance.  There are several twists and turns in this short 179 page novel.  There is a murder mystery and dark references to a story by Japanese writer Osamu Dazai.  There are also references to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby that lend a touch of depth to a story that might otherwise be viewed as rather hollow.  The twist is well-executed, with a bitter-sweet ending.

It is very difficult to analyze the story as such because it is not intended to have many layers to it.  The book girl (and this is the first of several adventures for her) and her strange bookmunching habits serve merely as a quirky characterization tool that has little to do with the story itself.  The interactions between Touko, Konoha and Chia differ in significant ways from what might be expected in Anglo-American teen literature.  There are many euphemistic references to rather adult situations, but the ways in which Japanese teens interact with each other are quite different from their American counterparts.  Nomura works in several references to Touko or Chia's underwear and their skirts, but Konoho is portrayed as being shy and embarrassed at their situations.  The group dynamics are much stronger here than what I've recalled seeing in any of the classes that I've taught over the years.  Love is more that of the puppy variety, or so it would appear, yet there are vivid accounts of couples committing suicide over matters of dishonor.  It is due to these key cultural differences that my interest was engaged throughout the novel.

The book was illustrated by Miho Takeoka and the huge-eyed, lightly-drawn characters are reminiscent of what one might find in the anime sections of video rental stores.  The dreaminess of the illustrations underscores the wistfulness that underlies Nomura's novel.  Teens are strange creatures in several societies and when trying to understand them across cultures, doubtless several misunderstandings may occur.  But from what I could tell, limited as my perspective may be, Nomura does a good job creating a background situation that Japanese teens in particular can relate to and perhaps the same could be said for some types of teens here in the United States.  To me, teen angst, or rather how it is portrayed in movies and teen literature, often is a bit too melodramatic and while there certainly were scenes that baffled me due to the overabundance of pathos on display, on the whole the character conflicts were interesting and fairly well-done.

While I would not go so far as to recommend that thirty-somethings such as myself ought to read Nomura's book, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime certainly is a book that will hold some appeal for its target teen (and especially teen girl) audience.  For that group, this short novel will not be too far out of place with other novels published under the Teen/YA banners.  For others, this book may be hit-or-miss, depending upon your personal affinity for Japanese literature, particularly that targeted toward teens.


magician said...

I read this book Its soooooo good and I have read vol:2 3 and 4 their sooooooo goooood

Anonymous said...

i accidently read the 3rd one first, but im reading the first one and i love it. I'm not a great reader other then manga i don't read anything else but Mizuki's books are so interesting that I can't stop reading sometimes. I highly recommend!

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