The Makioka Sisters Read-along: Book One

I never expected to be so enchanted with The Makioka Sisters. Every year, it seems, someone participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge either reads it, or mentions it, and yet I have not begun it until this year. Surely this is one of the ways that blogging enriches our reading: by sharing what we have read with one another.

In Book One we are introduced to the four sisters, and I must confess that at first I had some trouble keeping them straight. There is the eldest, Tsuruko, who manages the family’s main house in Osaka since their father’s death. Sachiko is the second eldest, a married woman with a daughter named Etsuko, with whom the two youngest sisters prefer to live in Ashiya. The third daughter is Yukiko, the one who must marry before her younger sister, Taeko can marry. However, it is proving to be quite a difficulty to find Yukiko a husband. Already, by the close of Book I, two suitors have been dismissed; the first, for having a mother with dementia (does insanity run in the family?), the second for being too old.

I enjoy the mood Tanizaki creates, reminding me of the quiet elegance in Japan which I so adore, and in which my American self so sorely stood out. (Even though I tried to be subdued.) Consider this passage about the sisters viewing the cherry blossoms, for which they have specially dressed:

And so, coming back from the western suburbs on the afternoon of the second day, and picking that moment of regret when the spring sun was about to set, they would pause, a little tired under the trailing branches, and look fondly at each tree – on around the lake, by the approach to a bridge, by a bend in the path, under the eaves of the gallery. And, until the cherries came the following year, they could close their eyes and see again the color and line of a trailing branch.

“…picking that moment of regret when the spring sun was about to set…” I love that phrase! It even reminds me of Guerlain’s perfume, L’Heure Bleu, describing the moment of a Parisian day when dusk is beginning at “the blue hour.” There is so much atmosphere, in my mind, that Tanizaki is able to convey.

I felt, while I was reading, no small amount of frustration with Yukiko. At first, I figured she was just being demure. She would cast her eyes down, and remain silent, during the attempts at her marriage arrangements. But, at the end of Book I, I had a sense that she was getting exactly what she wants. Does she even want to be married? Perhaps she is happy with her life as it is, being favored aunt of Etsuko, living comfortably with her sisters who seem to take care of her emotionally and physically.

“She keeps quiet and has everything her way,” said Sachiko. “Wait and see how she manages her husband.” (p. 150)

Are you as taken by the novel as I am? By the nuances of daily life, by the overly polite conversations between Itani, the hair-dresser/marriage arranger, and the Makioka sisters? Are you sensing a downfall imminent for them all? I am curious as to how your reading is going, and I wonder if you have felt any of the things I mentioned here, or have questions of your own?

Until March 17, then, when we talk about Book II.

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis, Booker International Prize 2020): a collection of interrelated stories exquisitely told.

This is a spellbinding web of stories about people on the periphery. Pagano makes rural France her subject matter, invoking the closeness of a local community and the links between the inhabitants’ lives, but then she reminds us how little we know of each other.

~Peirene Press on Faces on The Tip of My Tongue

I think the best way to ‘review’ this collection of stories, translated from the French, is to put what struck me as the most meaningful bits under each chapter’s title. As you read them, perhaps common threads uniting them will be revealed, perhaps not. Regardless, the power of Pagano’s writing is, I think, evident:

The Lake’s Favorite:

I was the lake’s favorite.

I loved my life by the lake so much that it was worth going away for awhile, if only for the pleasure of coming back.

The Jigsaw Puzzle:

We were just wondering how to tell our daughter, when she came down into the kitchen. She flew to the door with a joy that left us speechless. Her little hand fumbled at the handle; I had to help her turn it. For her, the fallen tree was no more dead than before, it was simply transformed into a tree house.

The Short Cut:

She lied herself a comfortable life, forgetting her childhood fears, but they returned once the children were grown up, they came back, they’d always been there most likely…

She suffered from the heaviness of a body that feels like lead when you don’t want to live any more.

Blind Spots:

Lots of people go about with blinkers, not just on the motorways. They’re not really driving their lives. I mean, not leading their lives. Instead of leading their own lives, they let themselves be carried along in their restricted view of things. Social conventions, appearances, all those things, you know, all those things that shrink your field of vision. Our vision. We don’t see anything else, nothing of what’s at the edges.

The Loony and the Bright Spark:

The man was one of those people who ‘haven’t their peace’. That’s how we describe them around here, our loonies. He worked at the social enterprise down in the town. He lost his peace by the side of the road one evening at about five o’clock when his wife and children were killed on the bend going down, more than forty years ago…

This tormented waiting that we can’t comprehend, this disaster, it’s him, it’s what’s inside his head, it’s the whole of him that we thought we knew but that goes beyond our knowledge. He goes beyond the figure we made of him that we thought we could reduce him to.

Mum at the Park:

When she was young, she didn’t play the same sorts of games as we did. She daydreamed among the trees, did jigsaw puzzles without getting bored, spent lots of time drawing and already read a lot…

Mom used to say that silence doesn’t exist, that there are always tiny sounds in the background, muted and barely perceptible. And she was an expert in barely perceptible things. Her whole childhood was made up of them.

The Automatic Tour Guide:

My little sister’s death doesn’t need inventing, and when he tells it to the people staying in the gîte he doesn’t embellish it with local color. He delivers it straight, raw, hardly like a story at all…

My sister rain off towards the tractor but I didn’t, I knew we weren’t allowed, and I told her not to but she didn’t listen, that two-year-old silly. Father came out again almost straight away, still cross, went back to the filed and got on the tractor. He started it up again, and when he heard me screaming louder and higher than the sound of the engine, when he felt the tiller jam, he was really beside himself, absolutely furious this time.

Just a Dad:

My dad knew just what to do, what to say and what not to say, everything the therapist would never understand.

Three Press-ups and Unable to Die:

I’ve had more than enough of myself, I must get rid of this self. I’m leaving me. Other people provide no refuge: they mass together instead of lightening my load, they lay their own armour upon my already overburdened carcass and their touch is heavy. Other people are an excess weight, my children especially. I can’t do it any longer, can’t carry anyone, anything more.

The Dropout:

You’d seen my face somewhere and here it was now in front of you, in front of you and elsewhere in an elusive memory, my recognized but unrecognized face, my face on the tip of your tongue. You smiled as if to thank me.

Glitter:

For a book to change us, to cleanse us, it must get deep inside, and those pink books, as I’ve told them hundreds of times stay on the surface. They reach only the outer layers of our skin, our thoughts and memories. They smooth over worries with illusory balm, like the anti-wrinkle creams that my friends spread on their faces…I’m alive and I read real books. Not dead books that simply submit to being read.

About the author: Emmanuelle Pagano was born in Rodez, France, in 1969. Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and she has won many awards for her work, including the EU Prize for Literature in 2009 and, most recently, the Prix du Roman d’Écologie in 2018. This is her second book to appear in English. The first, Trysting, was published in 2016 by And Other Stories.

About the translators: Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis translated Pagano’s previous collection, Trysting, to much acclaim. Individually, Higgins has translated numerous books from French and Italian, and Lewis’s translations have been shortlisted for the Scott oncrieff Prize and the Republic of Consciousness Prize.

(Thanks to Peirene Press for their willingness to send me this copy to review.)

Find an excellent review from Reading in Bed.

Two Fascinating Books for Boekenweek 2020: Mr. Miller by Charles den Tex and The Dutch Maiden by Marente de Moor

Mr. Miller is a conspiracy thriller that reads like a film unfolding on an IMAX screen. It centers around a communications consultant for a giant corporation, H C & P, named Michael Bellicher. As the novel opens, he and his parents are at the airport waiting for his brother’s arrival. They have not seen him for five years, and when Michael does see him, he is so shocked he hyperventilates…and then he goes on a three day drinking binge during which the appointments he has made, and the clients themselves, are ignored.

When he finally returns to work, he knows that his job is in serious jeopardy, and so he hides in the canteen in case his entry is denied the next morning. But, coming out of the kitchen in the darkness of night, he stumbles across the body of a woman. Then, he overhears two men in the building, one of whom he later recognizes upon hearing his voice.

Why has this woman been murdered? Why is there only a record of Michael being in the building at night, perfectly framing him for her death? And what, exactly, is technology capable of in the wrong hands? For when he opens his computer, with a certain web address he has found in the dead woman’s apartment, he finds the following text, behind which is a large photo of the earth as seen from space:

You have reached the home of Mr. Miller.

Welcome?

I did not mistype the question mark. It seems a dubious thing indeed, to be welcomed by Mr. Miller, for who of us would like our every move monitored, or worse, manipulated?

We follow Michael Bellicher’s attempts to escape those who wish to catch him, while at the same time gathering an understanding of what Mr. Miller is all about, with growing apprehension. Sandwiched in between the action is the very real, and sensitive, issue of Michael’s brother.

While I found the action in this novel a bit overdone, the concept of technology being used as a “strictly controlled information war” is truly terrifying.

About the author: Charles den Tex is the Netherlands’ leading thriller writer. His work has been translated into several languages. He is a three-time winner of the Dutch annual prize for the best thriller. His novel CEL (Cell) was longlisted for the prestigious Libris Literature Prize. Mr. Miller and CEL were made into a ten-part mini-series for Dutch television and have been sold to Netflix. His work is often compared to John Grisham, Michael Crichton, and Michael Ridpath.

About the translator: Nancy Forest-Flier is a New Jersey-born translatoe who moved to Europe in 1982 and has worked in the Netherlands since 1988. Her literary translations include The King by Kader Abdolah, Dissident for Life

All young souls idealize the future, but it takes a girl to idealIze the present along with it. (p. 40)

The Dutch Maiden mesmerized me from the very beginning. It is my favorite kind of novel, one which examines relationships through expertly drawn characters. In some places I was reminded of Rebecca, or Jane Eyre, or Wuthering Heights, for in The Dutch Maiden we also find a romantic story within an unnerving setting.

Janna is an eighteen year old girl, sent by her father to his friend, Egon von Botticher. She comes to study with this fencing master at his country estate named Raeren, and there, she learns more than she has come to know.

Egon von Botticher is a hard task-master. His body has been deformed by what he endured in World War I, when his horse abandoned him as he lay wounded. Janna’s father, working for the Dutch Red Cross, found Egon, determined to help him heal. But, it is clear that even if he healed, at least partially, he is not now fully restored to his former self either physically or emotionally.

Janna cannot help but fall in love with her maître; he is skilled, he is gruff, he is forceful, all of which entrances her even more than the two male students who have come to study with von Botticher as well.

Yet, this story is far more than a romance. Far more than the skills required to excel at fencing. Even more than the relationship between two men: one Dutch, and one German. It is also an exploration of Germany after the end of World War I, and on the cusp of World War II. Behold the cover: it pictures an actual fencing champion, Helene Mayer.

The woman on the cover is Helene Mayer, who also features in the book as the sportswoman who inspires the protagonist to start fencing. At at seventeen, Mayer won the gold medal for fencing at the 1928 Olympics, and quickly became a national hero. In 935, due to her father being Jewish, she was stripped of her German citizenship and forced to resettle in the USA. Despite this, she returned to represent Germany at the 1936 games in Berlin where she won silver, and curiously, gave the Nazi salute on stage.

About the author: Marente de Moor worked as a correspondent in Saint Petersburg for a number of years and wrote a book based on her experiences, Petersburg’s Vertellingen (‘Petersburg Stories’) which was published in 1999. She made a successful debut as a novelist in 2007 with De Overtreder (‘The Transgressor’). For her second novel, The Dutch Maiden, she was awarded the prestigious AKO LIterature Prize along with the European Union Prize for Literature. The novel has so far sold over 70,000 copies in the Netherlands and has been translated into ten languages.

About the translator: David Doherty studied English and literary linguistics in Glasgow before moving to Amsterdam, where he has been working as a translator since 1996. His translations include novels by critically acclaimed Dutch-language authors such as Monte Carlo by Peter Terrin and The Dyslexic Hearts Club by Hanneke Hendrix. He has also translated the work of leading Dutch sports writers Hugo Borst and Wilfried de Jong. David was recently commended by the jury of the Vondel Translation Prize for his translations of The Dutch Maiden and Jaap Robben’s You Have Me To Love.

Click on the image to learn more about Boekenweek from World Editions

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13 and the Booker International Prize 2020

The first duty of the Memory Police was to enforce the disappearances.
(p. 14)

How ironic that the very next book I pick up after The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree should also be about terror. Force. Loss.

Things disappear, like emeralds and perfume bottles, ferry boats and families. People who are able to still remember are taken away by the Memory Police, never to be seen again. And so, some of them go into hiding.

Though the cold weather had not yet set in, they each wore several layers of shirts, an overcoat each, and mufflers and scarves wrapped around their necks. They held bags and suitcases that were obviously stuffed full. It seemed they had been trying to bring with them as many useful items as they were able to carry. (p. 21)

I am reminded of reading The Diary of a Young Girl, and Anne Frank’s description of wearing as many clothes as they could before they went into hiding. Although The Memory Police is a work of fiction, it closely resembles the power of a government gone wrong to me.

The island is run by men who are determined to see things disappear. (p. 25)

While it is never quite clear exactly why things disappear from the people, or where it is that these things go, what is made evident is the fear and the loss in their aftermath. One of the patterns that I kept noticing is how Ogawa drew a connection between “memory” and “heart.”

Memories are a lot tougher than you might think. Just like the hearts that hold them. (p. 109)

Maybe there’s a place out there where people whose hearts aren’t empty can keep on living. (p. 117)

The music continue to play, before the disappearance and after. It plays on faithfully, as long as the key is wound. That’s its role, now and forever. The only thing that’s different is the hearts of those who once heard it. (p. 147)

‘There, behind your heartbeat, have you stored up all my lost memories?’ I thought this to myself, cheek pressed against R.’s chest. (p. 158)

I will be thinking about this novel for a long time, considering the impact of loss on our lives; the impact of loss on our hearts. Ogawa raises so many questions, I think, more than she gives us answers. Where do the things which have disappeared go? Do we eventually become accustomed to what we have lost, and not experience the pain as acutely as we did at first? What are we, if we have no memories? And, ultimately, isn’t loss inevitable?

In a beautifully written book, I am struck by this thought towards the end: “But I suppose the order of the disappearances made no real difference – if in the end everything disappeared anyway.” (p. 271)

There is no avoiding loss. There is only deciding on how it is that we will handle our memories.

About the author: Yoko Ogawa has won every major Japanese literary award. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope: All-Story. Her works include The Diving Pool, a collection of three novellas; The Housekeeper and the Professor; Hotel Iris; and Revenge. She lives in Tokyo.

The Memory Police was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.

Find a fascinating review of this book from Tom at Wuthering Expections.


The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, Booker International Prize 2020. (This could be my favorite, and we’ve only just begun.)

To deny or forget her past, she read and wrote, submerging herself in the meaning of myth…

It is hard for me to imagine that I will find a book from the Booker International Prize long list which I find to be more powerful than this one, and this is only the second that I have read from a stack of thirteen.

It isn’t the theme I love, about the Islamic Revolution in 1988 in Iran. It isn’t the terror, or the fear, or the religion of Islam. It is the voice of the narrator, a young girl named Bahar, who died in 1979 when her home was set on fire by the Revolutionary Guards. She now floats above her family, a ghost with a pure and childlike perspective, who tells us what living during this time was really like.

Five thousand men and women, young and old, whose only crime had been their political or religious beliefs, were killed in the prison of Tehran, Karaj, Mashhad, and other cities.

Bahar’s mother refers to the Islamic Revolution as the Arab Invasion, whereupon the family fled to Razan, from Tehran, for safety. But, they are not safe there, either. Their son is taken, and their books are burned, along with the musical instruments which their father had lovingly made.

With the burning of Dad’s tars – which had been our ears, mind, and soul – then of me, and now the books, we had lost both our limbs and our voice…we understood that contrary to what Dad believed, culture, knowledge, and art retreat in the face of violence, the sword, and fire – and for years after remain barren and mute.”

Some of the events that occurred to her family are told as facts, as I have quoted above, but most of them are relayed in the form of magical realism. Gradually, we come to see how the revolution changed her family’s destiny, for one by one, the members of the family disappear.

Her mother steps into the garden one lovely day, and keeps walking. Her sister, Beeta transforms into a mermaid, and lives in the Caspian Sea.

Beeta transformed into an aquatic creature so as to experience and live life with a freedom that had been impossible as a human.

Rather than seeming like utter fantasy, these events made perfect sense to me as I read. The magical realism is perhaps the only lens possible through which to endure the horror their lives had become. The other way, for this family, was through the power of books. For as much as an account of life in Iran, I found this novel to be an ode to literature. Literature must have been as threatening to the revolution as it was sustaining to the family; over and over accounts of burning books are told.

But, it is this quote from Beeta, now mermaid, that resonates so soundly with me: “In our world, nobody comes into life to stay forever, and our fish-like minds don’t allow us to think of the past.” For there is no comfort in reliving the past. There is only the courage required to move forward, changed though we may be.

About the author: Shokoofeh Azar moved to Australia as a political refugee in 2011. She is the author of essays, articles and children’s books, and is the first Iranian woman to hitchhike the entire length of the Silk Road. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, originally written in Persian, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize for Fiction in Australia and is her first novel to be translated into English.

The translator’s name has not been included here for reasons of safety and at the translator’s request.

(Thank you to Europa Editions for sending me a copy of this book to review.)

The Makioka Sisters Read-along for March

Here is my edition of The Makioka Sisters by Juni’chiro Tanizaki, lying in wait on my piano with a few origami doves I folded years ago. March does not begin until Sunday, but as some of you are as anxious to begin as I, let us lay out a few thoughts on how to proceed.

First of all, please read at the pace you wish. It is terribly difficult for me to lay down a book, pick up another, and return to the first. When I lose momentum, I lose who the characters are, and I’m apt to ask myself, “Exactly what has happened again?” So, I will probably read it in one go.

However, Tanizaki has nicely laid out The Makioka Sisters in three ‘Books’. I thought it would be helpful to discuss them as we go, and so I will put up a post for each of the three ‘Books’ in March as follows:

March 10: Discussion on Book I

March 17: Discussion on Book II

March 24: Discussion on Book III

March 31: Discussion of The Makioka Sisters overall.

Please feel free to join in any of these discussions, or post thoughts and/or favorite parts on your blogs or social media at any time during the month of March. Let’s use #MakiokaSistersRead2020 on Twitter or Instagram, if you choose to do so. I hope you are ready to join in reading this book which has been thought of as one of the most important Japanese novels to be published.

This is the story of the extinction of the once rich and haughty sisters of a great family through pride and over-refinement, and a re-creation of the sumptuous, pleasure-filled upper-class life of Osaka just before the war. Tsuruko, the oldest sister, uncompromising, unadaptable, worn down by money doubles and a large family, is forced to move to the competitive world of Tokyo where the Makioka name means nothing. The second sister, Sachiko, is a woman of rare kindness and good sense, who tries her best to hold the family together and to preserve the wonderful life they knew as children. The central theme of the book is finding a husband for Yukio, the third sisters. She has all the accomplishments of an elegant Japanese lady, yet she finds the strength to refuse a long line of suitors. Taeko, the youngest sister, is a modern girl who tries to break away from her family and to establish herself in a career. She has series of love affairs, bears a child, and ends up as the wife of a bartender. The Makioka Sisters is at once a work of art and a unique record of a period and a district.

Juni’chiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), widely considered one of Japan’s finest modern writers, was born in the heart of Tokyo. He studied Japanese literature at Tokyo Imperial University. After the earthquake of 1923, he moved to the more cultured Kyoto-Osaka region, the setting for The Makioka Sisters. His most important novels and stories, many reflecting his taste for sexual perversity, his eye for social comedy, and his bitter humor, were written after his move. He received the Imperial Prize for Literature in 1949.

~Tuttle Publishing

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné (“…one must learn to accept the unacceptable.”)

What happens when we are confronted with a terror so deep that our very world tilts? Some, perhaps, become a blob of jelly, amoeba-like, such as the narrator’s mother. Others, like her brother, Sam, turn the terror into a predator.

These two beautiful children, brother and sister, hear “Flower Waltz” by Tchaikovsky, and know that the ice cream man’s truck is coming. The brother orders vanilla and strawberry; his sister orders chocolate and stracciatella in a cone with whipped cream, and while I am contemplating the joy of that, I am utterly unprepared for what happens next.

For the siphon from which the whipped cream is dispensed explodes. Right in the ice-cream man’s face. It is totally obliterated, as the children look on in disbelief, and then he crumples to the ground.

This incident happens on page twenty-five of a book with two hundred and thirty-four pages. It is a horrific accident, setting the stage for the novel with an impact in keeping with their father’s violence. He is a hunter of animals, and a terror to his wife and children.

I had noticed that when my father started to become edgy, she (my mother) served red meat, as if she hoped that the bloody flesh would calm his rage. But I knew that blood wouldn’t calm him. He had to penetrate living flesh, be it with his fist or a .22 caliber bullet. (p. 111)

Our narrator hears a hyena’s laugh, as if it is real, and knows that vermin are eating her brother Sam’s brain. For surely, if they weren’t, he would not torture the neighborhood’s cats. Or, their mother’s beloved goat, Cumin, whom is so lovingly cared for in their garden.

What can this girl, bravely struggling to grow up, do? She determines that she will build a machine to go back in time, to erase the occurrence of tragedy that has come into their life. And she actually believes, with an eight year old’s faith, that this is possible. Until she learns of Marie Curie, and decides that science is the solution to solving Sam’s problem with violence.

To that extent, she excels in school, and she begins taking private tutoring lessons with Professor Pavlovic, a man from Tel Aviv whose wife wears a mask. It is literally a mask which hides her face, for her story is also one of incredible strength and courage. Her husband lovingly, and tenderly, cares for her in their home.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up with a father so cruel, with a mother so passive, with circumstances so horrific. Yet, it is a lovely thing to see courage grow strong in a wound. Adeline Dieudonné brings her heroine to life in this coming of age novel. We see the child grow to a young woman and embark on a new life, a real life which has overcome adversity and discovered hope.


Real Life by Adeline Dieudonne, translated from the French by Roland Glasser, was published in the U.S. on February 4, 2020. I am grateful to World Editions for the opportunity to participate on the blog tour listed above.

About the author: Adeline Dieudonné is a Belgian author and lives in Brussels. Real Life, her debut novel, was published in France in Autumn 2018 and has since been awarded most of the major French literary prizes: the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, the Prix Goncourt—Le Choix de la Belgique, the Prix de Étoiles du Parisien, the Prix Premiere Plume, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian. (Back cover)

About the translator: Roland Glasser was born in London, studied in Aberystwyth, and lived in Paris for a decade, pursuing twin careers in translation and the performing arts. His translation of Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 won the Etisalat Prize for Literature 2016 and was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. Authors he has translated include Anne Cuneo, Martin Page, Marc Pouyet, Julien Aranda, and Stéphanie Garner. Roland is a co-founder of The Starling Bureau – a London-based collective of literary translators.

The River by Peter Heller (Edgar Award Nomination for Best Novel)

The tension is palatable from the very beginning.

What they wanted by giving themselves almost a month, more, to cross the lakes and run the river was a voyage with no end date…Most of their previous river trips had been a hustle, because they were students with jobs and so their time off was short. They wanted to try this, to feel.what it was actually like to live in the landscape a little. But now everyrhing had changed. The fire they’d seen the other night and the early frost changed it. (p. 19-20)

The fog, and the impending fire, are not the only things that threaten Wynn and Jack, two friends canoeing in Canada. They encounter two men who are drunk, and then they overhear an argument between a man and a woman coming through the fog. Later, they stop a man in a canoe from going over the falls, and when he approaches them they can see he is in a state of shock. His wife, it seems, has disappeared. Did he kill her? Were they attacked by the two drunks? Was it a bear that caused such harm?

He (Jack) was forming a theory. He was gathering evidence and he would indict and convict the man before they even met him again. Wynn wouldn’t. It was plausible. It was. A whole handful of possibilities. The Texans with their quiet motor could have stalked the couple in the fog. The poor man, Pierre, in the grip of terror, had lost his wife and fled this new bear here by the falls, or fled them. Thinking that they had been the ones who had taken her in the mist and were now probably after him. (p. 106)

The two young men care for the woman, struggle to keep them all alive, and outrun both the fire and the man ahead of them whom they suspect is a threat. It seemed unrealistic in places, that they could escape the fire or escape their hunger. My interest waned…and then, at the end, my heart broke. I thought I would like it much more than I did, as the beginning was so strong, and the ending so piercing. Maybe I just didn’t like how upsetting it was, and for the ability to imbue that much emotion, Peter Heller ought to win something.

I have read four of the five books listed for Best Novel. So far, my favorite two are Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham and Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland. After a brief summary post of the Edgar Award contenders, I will return to Japanese literature. And, soon there will be a few books reviewed for Boekenweek which begins March 7. (Boekenweek is a ten day celebration of Dutch literature which first began in 1932.)

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland (Edgar Award nomination)

Art has a way of putting everyone at their most transactional. I’m invisible until someone calculates my value. (p. 37)

I devoured this book like I did the latte macchiato and ginger cookie from Peet’s, the traces of which you see above. It absorbed me completely and drew me into the art world in ways I have never been aware of before.

As I began to pull my thoughts together for this post, I realized that the narrator (for it is told in first person) never identifies herself. All we know is that she is a young painter, with an alcoholic mother left behind in Gainesville, Florida, and that she admires a group of artists called Pine City beyond what some might call normal admiration.

Who of us hasn’t been enchanted with a figure which seems to loom larger than life? Be it an artist, a writer, a singer, we seem to look for heroes, and then elevate them to impossible heights. Such is the way with Pine City, artists who are on the cutting edge, who cling to themselves and carve a successful path for their work to be recognized.

Somehow it doesn’t matter how old you grow, or how sophisticated you become. The people who impress themselves upon your consciousness at nineteen ill never shrink of fade from memory. They will always be just a few steps ahead, and you’ll both hate and worship them for it, because you cannot help but compare yourself. (p. 80)

Pine City is not the only object of her admiration; there is also her friend, Max, a woman who seems to have it all: style, fame, and a rich husband from the art world. They live in a house designed by one of the members of Pine City, Carey Logan, who has used sculpted hands for doorknobs, the crook of an elbow at the top of a landing of stairs…

The novel centers around Carey, a woman who has allegedly committed suicide by sticking her feet in boots filled with cement and filming herself walking into a lake where she drowns. The whole thing is filmed, as her final piece of art. Carey evolved from sculpture showing bodies in decay to performance art, where she hugged people, or smelled their breath, or did equally bizarre things that constitute art in the art world.

“I’m creatively lonely all the time.”

“Right? It’s so dissonant. I want to be an individual. I want my work to be so unique that everyone says there’s nothing like it, but then, I’m always looking around, like who’s making tracks? Who can I follow? How am I supposed to do this? (p. 156)

Really, as I think about it, Fake Like Me is more about what happens when the objects of our admiration can not bear up to our affection. It is about the loneliness inherent, perhaps, to each of us. It is about finding a place of contentment with who we are and what we do. I found it extremely well written, and very powerful.

Two of the Five Books listed as finalists for the Edgar Award this year: Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham and The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I have taken a short break from Japanese literature because guess what? Our library has all five of the five books listed for the Edgar Award’s Best Novel. Really, it is nothing short of a miracle, and as all five of them are in my hands at the moment, I decided I must go ahead and read each one.

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham was excellent. I actually cared more about the girl who was discovered hiding in a secret room, coming out only to feed two chained up dogs when she felt she couldn’t be found, than I did about the murder of a teen-aged figure skating champion named Jodie.

The characterization in this novel was fabulous, particularly the relationship which was forged between the traumatized girl, Evie, and a psychologist named Cyrus. He was strong enough, and compassionate enough, to provide a safe place for her, for he, too, knew what it was to have endured a most terrible tragedy as a child.

So, Jodie’s body is found in the path. Suspects are interviewed. The murderer is found, and it is all done quite skillfully. But, it is Evie and Cyrus who will remain foremost in my mind for a long, long time.

In many ways, The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths could be thought of as similar to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. There is a school, Talgarth High, around which murders happen, and a delicious gothic feel to the whole academic environment. But, it did not strike me nearly as powerfully as The Secret History, a novel I most assuredly admired.

The Stranger Diaries is based on the ghost story entitled, The Stranger, written by a R. M. Holland, a writer who used to live at the school about one hundred years ago. His study was on the top floor of the Old Building, and it is within his study that he seems to appear again one autumnal night.

The Stranger depicts a marvelous portion in which initiates to the Hell Club must climb blindfolded, with a candle, to the first floor landing’s window. There, they had to light their candles and shout, “Hell is empty!” Only then could they remove their blindfolds and return to their friends for feasting and revelry.

“Hell is empty and the devils are here,” is a line taken from The Tempest. It is an oft repeated refrain throughout this book, and perhaps my favorite part, for truly, I found the story of the murders themselves rather mundane.

Tonight I will begin Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland, as I make my way through all five nominations. The winner will be announced in New York City on April 30, 2020, but I will be sure to tell you my favorite long before that.