A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I wanted to like this novel. I really, really did. I wanted a new author to add to my collection of must-reads, instead of flitting around from one writer to another. Sadly, Ruth Ozeki is not that author, and my search continues.

I should have had an inkling though, with the five pages of praise inserted at the start of this book. It was a serious overkill and seemed as if the publishers scoured the internet for all good reviews of A Tale for the Time Being and printed them in the hopes it’ll bait some readers.

Here’s the thing though. A Tale for the Time Being is very well written. And the premise of finding a washed-up novel of a teenager from Japan on the shores of a remote Canadian island by an xrd-generation Japanese-American author is an intriguing one indeed. But aside from these two points, the novel struggled to make a proper link between the two core characters, which it alluded to.

I don’t mind that the book has no proper end. I don’t mind that Ruth doesn’t find out how Nao and her family is, as this not knowing links back up to the whole Shroedinger theory – she could be dead, she could be alive, but she will be either or if Ruth finds out for sure.

What really irked me was three main things. Ruth. She is dull and resentful, and keeps finding fault with her husband’s words or actions, baiting him into fights, but he never bites. For someone who is an author, her horizons are pretty narrow. She is unlikeable at best.

Next, the whole keeping-things-to-myself plot, which is a technique that annoys me whether written or on the screen. It seems all the issues stem from the characters hiding things – Nao not telling her family about the bullying and Haruki #2 not telling his family about the real reason he was let go from the company. Both incidents are key elements in the novel, but it feels as if the not-telling is used to continuously drive it forward.

Finally, that whole dream sequence at the end, where Ruth tells Haruki #2 about his daughter, and hides Haruki #1’s secret diary in his box of remains. Pardon my French but what the crap was that? If it was something that occurred consistently throughout the book, that would have been okay. Instead, it is sprung upon us like a cheap plot point.

Nao is a more compelling character, and her experience provides great insight into a much more hidden bullyish culture behind the polished surface of Japan. But the best characters in the novel to me are old Jiko and Haruki #1. Without them, A Tale for the Time Being would have felt incredible self-involved.

At least there were a lot of phrases for my book of quotes though, so there’s that. But will I read more Ozeki’s? Probably not.

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