on 30 April 2002
Set against a surreal backdrop of present day Japan, The Earthquake Bird opens with Lucy Fly, the narrator and main character, under arrest in a Japanese police station. Lucy is an English translator who seems content and competent with her new life in the East.
We know that something terrible has happened and Lucy is the prime suspect. As she tells her story, more and more details come to light about Lucy, her friends Lily and Teiji, and the reasons why she emigrated to Japan ten years previously. We are taken back to Lucy's solitary childhood in Yorkshire and events of her old life that still haunt her. Not everything about Lucy Fly is what it seems, I found myself hating her and loving her with the turn of each page!
Susanna Jones' prose has a refreshingly urgent pace, and child-like clarity. At the end, the reader is left feeling like they have been given a guided tour of Tokyo; of its language, noodle bars, tower blocks and transport system.
The Earthquake Bird is relatively short, but narrated in exquisite detail without a superfluous word, reminiscent of Barbara Vine at her darkest.
I found myself reading 'just one more chapter' until I had reached its thrilling climax in one sitting. A must read for anyone with an interest in Japanese culture or the complexities of the human mind. Superb!
When Lucy's friend Lily is murdered, Lucy becomes the main suspect. We meet her while she is being questioned by the police and refusing to answer them. Instead she tells us, the readers, her story. Damaged by events in her early life, Lucy has moved from her Yorkshire home to Japan to try to put the past and her family behind her. She has grown to love her new country but still gives the impression of being very much an outsider looking in.
Susanna Jones' great strength is in creating compelling, enigmatic central characters and Lucy is a fine example of this. She admits to being 'strange' and some of her actions would seem to confirm this. But she tells her story in such a way that the reader can't be sure whether her memories are accurate or distorted by later events. She is oddly likeable despite her insecurities and obsessiveness.
Jones' writing style is spare and well crafted, shot through with shafts of humour and irony, but gradually creating tension that builds throughout the book. Through Lucy's eyes, Jones gives us a convincing picture of life for a young woman in an alien culture and of the crossover between the immigrant community and the native Japanese. She doesn't make the mistake of trying to tie everything up too neatly at the end - Lucy's future remains as enigmatic as her past. An excellent debut novel with all the ingredients that Jones shows in her more recent books. Recommended.
on 24 May 2001
I don't normally enjoy the train journey from Newcastle to Kings Cross, but I read this all the way and it was ace.
Given how complex the story is I found it easy to read, probably because it's so neatly written and brilliantly plotted.
The central character Lucy Fly is a strange fish, the type you're glad is tucked up in the pages so you can get to know her without having to meet.
Since reading it I've also bought it as a birthday present and lent my copy to a mate straight away - what more recommendation can I give? I think I'll be telling people about this book for months to come.
on 17 August 2013
I was in hospital following a motorcycle accident in 2002 and, having wanted to read this book for some time, I asked my girlfriend to buy it and bring it in. My anticipation for it was fired by having lived in Tokyo for three years in the nineties, in fact, in the same bit that Jones has Lucy Fly living. I could hardly wait for the book to arrive. Jones has a nice written style and has a good sense of humour. Lucy is asked if there was anything she liked about Yorkshire, where she was from, by the other Yorkshire girl in the story. 'The erosion,' is the deadpan reply. But, and it is a big but, this is supposed to be a crime novel (it amazingly won an award) and, whilst a crime takes place, the plot is so thin and the book so short, I felt shortchanged. I think some reviewers on here fail to realize that the most underrated and most difficult part of writing is plotting. Without a plot what have you got? In this case little more than a guidebook, a well-written and, in parts atmospheric guidebook but that's all. Some on here will think I'm being harsh but she won an award. It makes you wonder if this was the best crime novel debut of 2001, what were the others like? Actually, probably a lot better.
on 9 April 2014
The story begins when Lucy is arrested as the chief suspect in the murder of another young English woman and takes us through her interrogation by the police. A murder mystery, but there's something completely different here to the genre novels of contemporary detective fiction. There's a whodunnit element which is no less intriguing for the fact that the narrator is also the accused and very possibly the murderer. The writing is spare and elegant and the plot is intelligent with an unusual lead character who remains elusive even in her deepest confidences. Lucy starts the story as a vulnerable and insecure young woman, bewildered by her circumstances, and becomes, through the gradual revelations about her past in England and her new life in Japan, more ambiguous as the story develops.
As an armchair traveller this book left an impression of Tokyo so far removed from the usual glass and concrete hyper-city that I found it fascinating. This is a Tokyo of neighbourhood noodle bars, small houses, train stations, back streets and earth tremors; a place where small kindnesses and wonderful moments of beauty are blended into the casual anonymity of the city.
on 25 September 2001
I loved this book. It is a novel that works beautifully in so many different ways. Lucy Fly is one of the most fascinating first person narrators I have come across. Her story is dark, powerful, deeply disturbing and stunningly told in spare, lyrical prose. You are never quite sure whether or not she is telling the truth and it is this ambiguity that carries the suspense of the novel. The murder of Lily and the events leading toward it are a nightmare but Lucy talks about it with a frightening distance and dark humour. I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it and even now that I have, I still find myself thinking about Lucy, Lily and Teiji.
I grew up in Tokyo and I thought that the book describes the details of the city perfectly. The atmosphere of Tokyo, especially on a rainy night, is so vivid I almost believed I was back there. The sights, smells and sounds are captured brilliantly. I was very impressed by the writer's understanding of Japan and Japanese culture and I thought that the descriptions of Japanese food, countryside and language were so accurate.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes a really unconventional psychological thriller and especially people who are interested in Japan. This book will take you all the way to Tokyo and lead you around its darkest corners.
Susanna Jones describes her novel, published in 2001 as a ‘novel of mystery’. Jones graduated in Drama/Theatre Studies from Royal Holloway College and then worked in Japan and Turkey as an English teacher and radio script editor. This background and interest in Japan is palpable from the opening page in which the narrator, Lucy Fly [Rooshy Furai], describes an earth tremor in Tokyo.
The reader finds Lucy being interrogated by police investigating the disappearance of her friend, Lily Bridges, which may be linked to the recovery of a torso and limbs from the sea. Lucy, in her mid-thirties, had a distressing upbringing in Yorkshire, left to study Japanese in London and has made her home in Tokyo where she has been employed as a technical translator for a decade. For a period she played cello in an amateur string quartet led by Madame Yamamoto. One evening she sees Teiji, a photographer who works in his uncle’s noodle shop, capturing reflections in street puddles and they begin a relationship.
This background allows the author to provide atmospheric descriptions of life in Tokyo from a perspective of almost-insider. The arrival of Lily, an ex-nurse from Hull, who has fled a difficult relationship and is working in a bar, introduces unexpected turmoil in Lucy’s life. Prevailed upon to help Lily find accommodation, Lucy feels sorry and, against her better judgement, takes her under her wing. Police suspicion that Lucy was involved in her disappearance results from the fact that she was the last to see lily and they were known to have had an argument.
Lucy narrates her story during her police custody in the first person, with flashbacks to her childhood. But she also refers to the third person ‘Lucy’ in her narrative that creates an impression of a divided personality and an unreliable storyteller [‘I enjoyed looking. Lucy cannot visit a home, occupied or not, without imagining herself’]. What Lucy does not tell the police is that she is no stranger to death since her eldest brother, Noah, died when she pushed him from a tree whilst, more recently, she blames herself for the death of Mrs Yamamoto who fell over her cello and cracked her head on the floor.
Although a crime may have been committed and police are involved this is not a conventional crime novel since what may have happened to Lily is incidental to the story that is about the interactions of a group of characters, each of whom has secrets. Many chapters are made up of short blocks of text that propel the natrrative and allow the reader to engage with the foreign location, culture [‘green tea is best made at a temperature of eighty to ninety degrees, never boiling’] and the characters.
Lucy is a devious and lonely person [‘and that was my favourite thing. Not talking. Not feeling the need to fill up beautiful and valuable silences with unnecessary noise.’], which is due mainly to her mother who starved her of affection; she had had seven ‘angelic’ sons and wanted an eighth, instead Lucy arrived. We are made aware of Lucy keeping information from her Japanese interrogators and suspect that she is also hiding aspects of her story from the reader.
The challenge that Jones sets herself is to make the reader care for a person who is not particularly likeable – she loses her virginity after propositioning the father of one of her school friends; shortly thereafter he commits suicide [yet another death].
Readers enjoying action may not like this very much since not much happens – much of the action takes place inside the narrator’s/Lucy’s head as she seeks to understand the actions of those around her. The descriptions are very engaging, leading to an extended scene where Lucy walks, following the route of the twenty eight stations that lie in a ring around Tokyo. Most have a connection with her life in the city, with Teiji and Lily. The relationship with Teiji is seen entirely from Lucy’s side, with key moments slipping from her memory like an eel, and the reader doubts what he sees in her, apart from a Western woman ready to offer what he wants.
This debut novel won a prize for the best first crime book in 2001 but readers are more likely to enjoy it for its spare character descriptions rather than for its mystery. The real mystery is Lucy. I would rate this 4/5 for the former but only 2/5 for the latter since it rather meanders to its close without much build up of tension.
on 23 June 2008
I don't like crime novels. This is an exception. It says a novel of mystery on the cover. Perhaps I like mystery novels. The novel is set in Japan and the main character is an English translator who has lived in Japan for ten years. On the first page the main character is arrested for murder.
While she is at the police station being interrogated she slowly rewinds the story skipping between her past in England and what happened since she came to Japan.
It spoiled it a bit for me because I read the Amazon review saying that you'll change your mind about the main character half way through ... so I don't get the chance to create my own opinion. I found the main character likable all the way through though ... a very honest voice!
The background story is a story of love and jealousy and loneliness which is very beautiful. The murder is even more in the background. What captivates me is Lucy's way of telling the story backwards and giving the reader just enough details without revealing who the murder is until the very end.
on 10 June 2001
A real gem of a page-turner, this sinister murder mystery takes place in Tokyo, and Susanna Jones successfully captures many feelings of the ex-pat without sounding cliched. I live near Tokyo, and I could easily identify with the urban atmosphere through the eyes of Jone's main character, Lucy Fly. One is never too far from the sound of the Yamonote train, the famous route circling downtown Tokyo. But what I liked most is that nearly every sentence in The Earthquake Bird is a surprise. Scattered throughout the novel are numerous poetical insights, which help the reader clearly define each character's motivation--perhaps.-- When I reluctantly set the book down to eat or sleep, I found my self wondering about each's unsettling predicament. Many of these poetical insights have stayed with me long after turning the final page. I anxiously await Susanna Jones' second novel.
on 17 September 2001
I read "The Earthquake Bird" when it was first released in the UK. I normally wouldn't consider writing a review of a book that I had read months ago but in this case the distance works very well. This is a book that just gets better the more you think about it...and think about it you will.
Lucy Fly is a British woman who fled England years ago to live in Japan. Lucy is an enigmatic and detached character who, although allowing us to stroll through her mind, very rarely allows us to enter her heart or her soul. During the many years she has lived in Tokyo, she has made few friends and her central relationship is her affair with Teiji, a man who lives his life through his photographs. Lily Bridges, a young woman escaping her own personal hell in England, enters the lives of these lovers. In doing so, this seemingly naive young woman is the catalyst for the "earthquake" that upsets Lucy's claustrophobic and rather controlled life. For this, she may have payed with her life.
This tightly-woven story unfolds at a slow and steady pace. While often sounding dispassionate, there is an undercurrent of electricity lurking beneath every word. Although it is a tale of passion, rage and obsession, emotions I associate with blazing colors, the story is told in muted shades of black and white. In the film noir style, there are scenes shrouded in a haze of fog, masked in gauze or with slim rays of light falling across small enclosed spaces.
At first I was thinking of comparing Ms. Jones' writing to that of Minette Walters, Barbara Vine or Nicci French but, on reflection, I believe that her storytelling skills are far more subtle. While there is no single stunning moment in "The Earthquake Bird," the story in itself is stunning.
Make no mistake about it, "The Earthquake Bird" is Lucy's story and hers alone. She is the narrator and all that happens in the book is in her voice and seen through her eyes. If you decide to walk in her shoes, I don't think you will be disappointed.