14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Exquisite and beautiful,
This review is from: An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful (Paperback)
I was expecting to enjoy this because I've read the author's two previous novels, but I was still in for quite a surprise: this is an outstanding read, easily my favourite of the year. Not only could I not put the book down, but the major emotional punches are still delivering their blows after I've finished reading it. I didn't predict any of the twists and turns, and as I neared the end I was completely gripped, and surprised again by the ending itself.
Yet despite the strength of feeling the events, characters and their relationships evoke, and the careful and clever plotting and pacing, this is also a book brimming with delicacy and subtlety, with beautiful and finely observed description. The more you reflect on it, the more details you discover. There are parallels between Edward's relationships with an American and a Japanese woman and his attitudes towards their respective countries. Cause or effect, or neither? The pace begins steadily in the 1950s and increases to a 21st-century pitch, whilst the passions of the young man give way to the sometimes maudlin reflections of old age. Has Japan speeded up so very much, or is it partly Sir Edward's painful slowing down? The interweaving of the fifties and today are handled with skill, so that although we don't want to leave the place we're reading, we're dying to return to the other narrative to find out what happens next. We feel sympathy with various characters despite their weaknesses and misdeeds, because their journeys are so credible (although we dislike some!) We can't always distinguish between a trick of the memory and a denial allowed to embed itself with an element of deliberateness. Aldous, meanwhile, provides the perfect foil for Edward.
This is more a love story and a study of one man's journey from youth to age, from potent ambition to flawed maturity, than it is a book about events, although we can't ignore the theme of the devastation in Japan after Word War II and the Western response to it. Throughout the narrative there are scenes set against major milestones and cultural backdrops from the 1950s and present day in Japan, London and New York, whether in politics, art or social mores. In this aspect I found echoes of William Boyd's Any Human Heart and The New Confessions (my two favourites of his novels). There are also hints of other great books and writers, too. There's a political dimension and a moral integrity, and there is an atmosphere of poignant regret, a little like in Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, of lost youth and reflecting on youthful errors.
Altogether, this is definitely a book you must read!