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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: A True Novel

A True Novel - Juliet Winters Carpenter, Minae Mizumura

Take Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, move the story to post-war Japan, stretch it to twice its original length, and you have A True Novel. The premise sounds great and the two-volume set is absolutely gorgeous. Looks can be deceiving however. Not only is this novel a chore to get through at times, but the pages fall out of this puppy like sheet music inevitably falls from the music stand on the night of the performance.


It's been some years since I read Wuthering Heights, but what stuck with me was the story of Catherine and Heathcliff. I recall a brief introduction to the story as told by a housekeeper. And I remember the story getting lost in the midst of the text occasionally. Overall, I really enjoyed Emily Brontë's only known work.


A True Novel copies many of these elements, but somehow manages to stretch the most uninteresting parts to the maximum. The novel's introduction introduces us to Fumiko (Nelly), the woman who narrates the larger text, who tells the story to Yusuke (Lockwood) who becomes an editor and tells the story to our novelist, Ms. Minae Mizumura (Brontë). Much of the same nesting of stories happens in Wuthering Heights, but here it spans the length of 165 pages. Finally, we get to the novel, but now Fumiko needs to fill us in on the history of the families, her role, et cetera, et cetera. It's past page 400 before the reader is given a spark between the child Yoko (Catherine) and the child Taro (Heathcliff).


The story certainly becomes more interesting in the second half, but it still suffers under the strain of too much detail, details about Fumiko's marriages, jobs, and the relationships every character in the book has with every other character. The dynamics between Yoko and Taro were great. Though neither character got the proper introduction and it's never quite clear what really brought these two together, the actual drama is very well played.


My biggest complaint about this book is its length. It's unnecessarily long and overly detailed. Otherwise, it's not a bad book. Even if the characters are lifted from another story, Mizumura characterized them extraordinarily well. A True Novel shines in its depiction of post-war to modern Japan; one might argue that setting is a character in itself. This novel is a well-written homage to not only Wuthering Heights but to Japan as well.