Two storylines. No three. No two. One? … Quantum mechanics. Metafiction. Superpowers. Hello Kitty. Cats. Zen Buddhist Nuns. Ghosts. Dot-coms. Philosophy. WWII. 9/11. What am I missing? What am I missing?
A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliant novel in that way that books can sometime be brilliant. It's the sort of novel that you'll probably feel strongly about from the beginning, or be completely indifferent to. But what else is there? Perhaps, as Jiko would say, they are “same thing.” It's a complex book that seems fairly straightforward until it gets closer and closer to the end. It's the sort of book where everyone is a philosopher (EVERYONE!), everyone has a wondrous story to tell, yet everyone is so prosaic.
A Tale for the Time Being might be a paradox; or it could just be a book. Not just any book, but a complex metafictional book that Booker types eat up. Now, I am one of those Booker types. I love that prize. Every other literary prize gets it wrong, but the judges at Booker—they're my homies. And yet, I couldn't connect with this novel. Aside from Haruki #1, a character only in the sense of found correspondence, I was unable to connect with the characters. Too many philosophers amongst them. And Nao. Nao was part-philosopher, part-fangirl with a fascinating story and no voice to tell it in. At least not the right voice, I felt.
Perhaps this novel is an example of a good idea getting in the way of a good story. There was considerable potential here, and those willing to work at it, those able to identify with one character or another, they'll probably love this tale. Give it a hundred pages. If you enjoy the characters, press on. If you love multi-layered fiction worthy of dissection, press on. But if you've made it that far and haven't fallen in love, you probably won't. Whether you read all 432 pages, or just make it through the first chapter, it doesn't matter; they're “same thing” to the philosophers and time beings found in this novel.