Updated on May 19, 2015
11. ‘A Tale For The Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki
A pretty straightforward opening line, you might think, but this single word leads into an excellent tour de force of a novel, which calls into question the relationship between reader and writer, and the very nature of time.
The book follows two stories. One: Nao, a Japanese schoolgirl buys a diary intending to fill it with her great-grandmother’s life story, but instead the drama of her own life interferes and she ends up writing about her relentless bullying at school and the suicide attempts of her depressed father. Two: Ruth, who finds Nao’s diary washed up on a beach on the other side of the world and becomes obsessed with the teenager’s story.
I thought both Nao and Ruth, and the major characters in each of their lives, were written wonderfully (except maybe Nao’s mother, who is overshadowed by the powerful figure of Nao’s father). I was intrigued by both stories, and they each progressed at a good pace, although perhaps Nao’s parts of the book were slightly better. I felt that Nao was more clearly characterised, her motivations and her trains of thought were more vivid, and I liked her more than I did Ruth.
At first I was a little unsure about Nao’s narrative voice. She seemed quite childish, but as the story progressed it turned out she was far from immature. Nao’s sunny disposition covers some dark experiences (very, VERY dark) and as I read her, I found myself liking her even more.
But perhaps my favourite part of the entire novel was a section not written by either of the major characters. Nao discovers a diary and some letters written by her uncle, Haruki, a Japanese kamikaze pilot in the war. His diary is similar to another fictional account of a kamikaze pilot that I read in David Mitchell’s ‘number9dream‘, and it is incredibly moving and thought-provoking.
The ending really makes this book. It is unexpected, surreal and, as far as my reading experience goes, unique. Still, I thought that the structure could have been thought out a little differently. I would have swapped Nao and Ruth’s final chapters so that Nao’s finished the novel, because I felt this chapter had a stronger emotional impact (and it would have had the added dramatic irony of finishing the book with the word ‘started’).
This is an excellent, melancholic, mind-bending book. Well worth a read.
“I believe it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you can find something concrete to keep you busy while you are living your meaningless life.”
I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of this book, from the Book Depository, who are currently selling it at a 25% discount.
The copy I received was an uncorrected proof and there were notes by (I presume) the author in the margins, which I found very interesting! For example, there is a page with lots of different sized words and then a huge blank space, which the writer aptly named ‘typographical madness’.
‘A Tale For The Time Being’ is a new release this year, so if you want something fresh off the presses, you can’t get better than this.
If you liked my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?