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Customer Review

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ambitious but ultimately disappointing, 24 Nov 2013
This review is from: A Tale for the Time Being (Hardcover)
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Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist and her eco-artist partner Oliver live on Vancouver Island. They discover a package washed up on the shore that contains, among other artefacts, the diary of Nao, a young Japanese girl, written on the pages of an old copy of Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. A Tale For Time Being alternates between Nao's story and Ruth and Oliver's. Nao is a lively but troubled girl who was schooled in America but returned to Japan, and her story reveals her struggles against bullying at school, her suicidal father, the lessons learnt with her ageing Zen Buddhist great-grandmother and the discovery of her family's past. Nao's story starts as a fairly light tale but becomes increasingly and surprisingly dark with scenes of abuse, torture and prostitution, the Kamikazi pilots of the second world war and the shadows cast by 9/11 and the tsunami of 2004.

To give more of the story away would be unfair to future readers, but the themes covered include ecology, religion, death, time, honour and quantum mechanics and the process of story-telling itself. It is an intriguing tale and one can't help being reminded of Murakami.
However, reading other reviews here, I seem to be in the minority when I say I found this story disappointing and the writing rather flat and dull. Ruth and Oliver never come alive and I had little sympathy for them - Oliver is a particularly irritating character and, for writing that aims to entrance, I found the descriptions of place and character very mundane. I had more engagement with Nao's story (particularly its insights into the peculiarities of Japanese culture) but her voice never rang quite true for me either. There is also some whimsical/mystical nonsense towards the end that was a turn-off for this reader, as were the token references to quantum mechanics (it's all too easy to drop in references to Schrödinger's cat to make your story seem a little more profound than it is).

If this review seems harsh, it is probably mostly down to personal taste. This is an intelligent book with a lot of ideas and most readers will engage with at least a few of them. For me, its ambition surpassed the author's ability and parts of it verged on the pretentious. But I know others have and will love it, so don't let me put you off.
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Initial post: 5 Mar 2014 23:11:22 GMT
Quicksilver says:
I've finally got around to reading this book, and your review pretty much sums up what I thought about it. I feel like I missed something that lots of other people can see.
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