Mini Book Reviews #3

Books really are a little piece of magic. Though I had imagined myself having read more books by this point in the year, those that I have finished have been thoroughly enjoyable. These particular reviews come from yet another selection of borrowed books. In a way these are my favourite; knowing that I have someone who understands the thoughts and feelings each story evokes. Of course, a lot of the books I’m reading lately have been read by many peers, but in any case, it’s just a nice thing to share.

I first picked up Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles, mostly because of how slim the book was; I really just felt like a quick read. Well, you know that old saying; don’t judge a book by its cover. Neither should you judge it by its size. As it turns out, this wasn’t a book that I was going to finish in one day.

This is a story of a marriage breaking down, or rather, the current state of it since the initial fall. Kaname and Misako remain together, seemingly for the benefit of their son. Meanwhile they seek passion elsewhere, a quiet agreement between the two. Throughout the book, Kaname spends more time with father in law, who attempts to help bring the romance back through the use of “time-honoured Japanese traditions of aesthetic and sensual pleasure”. Kaname observes the old puppet shows along with Misako’s fathers own relationship. Misako seems keen to start a new relationship with her lover, meanwhile we struggle to figure out how Kaname really feels.

The way in which it was written lead to a very slow reading pace for me. I wasn’t sure if it was lacking momentum, but honestly, if this was the case I would have simply put it down and not finished it. A story deeply rooted in relationships and traditions, Some Prefer Nettles was a great book to get stuck in to, demanding full attention at all times. It ponders feelings and new age rituals, compared to the old, suggesting the impact of it all on the marriage of Kaname and Misako. I found it very much to be about looking back on a previous time and romance, rather than moving forward to a plot point, which was actually quite refreshing. A soothing read, in spite of its heartbreak and sorrow – the writing perfectly engrossing the reader, even if only for a few minutes at a time.

Conversations With Friends was on my list the minute I finished Normal People. Sure I may have done it backwards, this one being Rooney’s debut and all, but that’s just how life goes sometimes. What I loved about Normal People was the intimacy between the characters (which I think we can all agree was fully shown in the TV adaptation), so I was excited to see how that would be present in Conversations.

Yes, it was yet another story about relationships for me to digest and theoretically apply the life lessons to my own. Of course this is not so much in the literal events, but more the drawn out messages. A feeling of things not being so simple, never black and white. Life is complicated and so is love and this book showcased it magnificently. Frances and Bobbi are best friends and ex lovers, studying in Dublin and performing together at spoken word events. They become friends with journalist Melissa and her husband Nick, entering a world far different to their own. It opens up more opportunities, even if not always in the most appropriate way. It felt to me like one of those stories where you are rooting for entirely the wrong people, but at the same time, maybe it’s the right thing. It is in a way conflicting, and once you think you have your mind made up, it all flip reverses. It’s witty, sensual and down right aggravating, and I love that.

On a more personal note, other than having not long finished Normal People, I think I was drawn to this book by my own issues with making conversation. Don’t get me wrong, once I start talking it can be hard to shut me up, but in terms of having everyday conversation with new people, I struggle. A closed off introvert if you ever did meet one, I just never grasped the art of conversation in ‘real life’. I still remember someone once making a stab at me to follow up my answer with a question to keep the conversation flowing. It was a very small moment but honestly, it’s all I can think about sometimes. The message was useful, but the tone was not. It made me feel rude and instead of helping me move forward actually made me back away, not that I blame this person of course, they had a point.

I guess this vulnerability is something that made me feel connected to Frances in the book. A reserved individual, particularly compared to Bobbi, Frances seems to not connect with everyone immediately. But for those whom she does connect with, it almost takes over everything else. It’s kind of like a crutch, something you can’t let go of, even at the detriment of everything else.

I then went for Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. I found it to be a perfect middle ground between the previous two; classic in tone, but not so far away from life as we know it. I actually loved every moment of this book, even if sometimes my wavering motivation to read meant I only read a few pages at a time. I also happened upon a Spotify playlist to match the book, which I ended up having to listen to every time I took to reading it. In fact I’m even listening to it now as I write this.

The book follows Toru Watanabe looking back on the days of his first love, Naoko, and we immediately know it’s not straightforward as the blurb states that she is the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Furthermore, we also learn of the “impetuous young woman”, Midori and so the scene is set for “a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passions, loss and desire”.

Backtracking a little, Tanizaki seemingly wrote Some Prefer Nettles as a veiled autobiography and people have suggested the same of Norwegian Wood. Honestly the way Murakami delves into the tender moments of life with the most candid outlook on it all, I wouldn’t be surprised if some moments came from his life, I mean, it kind of has to, but of course this is fiction. This book was a new path for the writer, that many saw as a “retreat” away from previous work, suggesting perhaps that this book is simple – “‘just’ a love story”. I’m not quite sure what the fascination is with writers to keep on the same path, but I for one adore this book, although I feel like I absolutely have to read more. Either way, it is so much more than a story of love, though that may be the crux of it all. It is sorrow, it is calm, it is real. Maybe not in terms of Murakami’s own love life, but certainly in how things just ‘are’.

It turns out that Norwegian Wood is pretty much the perfect book for me; stories of relationships with references to music as some kind of stimulus. There were moments where I didn’t feel so at ease, but safe to say I absolutely adored making my way through its pages, I guess it’s that morbid fascination at play. I think this might be a new favourite of mine, one that I will definitely return to some day in the future. In fact I’m already thinking of old favourites I want to go over again, particularly The Night Circus. That will have to wait however as I am just getting stuck in to Lucy Foley’s latest, The Guest List. More on that another time.

If you have any recommendations, then please let me know.

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