The Sunset Just Beyond the Horizon
From the moment you set your eyes on the title of the book, you can sense there is something genuinely different about it; something that separates it from all the other novels on the shelf. While seemingly ordinary and relatively small in size, it contains an invisible power that beckons a person to come closer and begin to read. It doesn’t take more than the first page for the reader to come to the full realization that what you hold in your hands is something of an entirely different nature than you had originally thought. Gone are your preconceptions of what may lie ahead.
If that introduction sounds foreboding, it should. “Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime” is nothing if not foreboding. Disguised on the surface as a school story about the supernatural Tohko Amano, a girl with the uncanny desire to eat books, it hides a darker nature that actively lurks beneath the surface of every page. If that description frightens you, don’t let it: “Book Girl” is one gripping read. The story on the surface is likened to a mystery and the dark nature at its heart is slowly revealed like an unwinding puzzle.
The book begins by introducing us to our narrator and protagonist Konoha Inoue, a high school student who wrote a bestselling novel in middle school under a female pen name but whose popularity and secrecy drove him to the edge causing him to never want to write again. Now, ironically, he finds himself in a book club run by his Tohko Amano, a girl one year his senior. And what task does President Tohko demand of Konoha? To write short stories. Why? Because Tohko has a bit of a secret herself. She eats books, literally, and she loves handwritten ones the best. However, one day, when a young first year student comes to the club seeking help with a relationship, things go from strange to the downright bizarre. As the truth is gradually unveiled, several characters will be forced to look deep inside of themselves, and what they find might be deadly.
What can I say about a novel such as this? Words seem to escape me in so many ways. It’s not an extremely sophisticated or philosophical work; but if anything it’s a psychological exposé. It’s something that leaves you speechless and somewhat uncomfortable at the end. It’s definitely not your average YA novel, even for Japan.
Filled with references to famous classic 20th century works such as “The Great Gatsby”, it’s primarily influenced by the works of Japanese author Osamu Dazai, especially his final piece “No Longer Human”. Luckily for readers, the author does not require you to have a familiarity with these works in order to appreciate her own. Enough details are given regarding their writings to understand the meaning of their presence in the story, a presence that lasts up until the very end.
One of the aspects I enjoyed most about this book was all of the inside jokes regarding writing. In a certain sense, I believe that if you are a writer, and especially if you are a novelist, you may be able to get an extra level of enjoyment that others will not have access to. Numerous comical moments related to writing, plot development, etc. will leave readers chuckling and smiling.
When first reading this book, it’s easy to try to pin it down as a murder mystery or possible ghost story. Author Mizuki Nomura does a superb job of misleading readers at every turn and surprising them with unexpected twists. In the end, “Book Girl” is none of these things and only reveals its true self at the very end, successfully tying together the themes introduced at the beginning. The ending comes unexpected and is quickly climatic. For many, it will leave the reader gaping and reading every word intensely. However, it is this very ending which will probably be the most remembered aspect of this book.
If I had to pinpoint what the central theme of this novel was, it would have to be the human soul. Throughout the story readers are assaulted with different people all sharing some sort of issue in regard to their souls. These defects are of the extreme variety and take a hard long look at human disparity.
After finally reading the last page, readers will most likely be left somewhat uncomfortable. The reason for this is because unlike so many novels where an author feels the need to wrap salvation in a neatly tied bow, Nomura decides to play it gritty. What we get is an ending true to reality and life. Time heals all wounds, and for some, a single novel cannot cover enough time to show you how they are all healed. Scars are left on display and there are no assurances that everything will turn out alright, only a hope that they will. It’s a powerful work that for many will leave them in reflection after they’ve finished.
Now, however, I cannot ignore its faults. First, several important parts of the storyline are built upon a scenario that is quite too convenient and almost near unrealistic. I don’t mind fantasy. It’s fiction, so it can be convenient. But in this case, these sections of the story are too convenient for its own good. Secondly, we are denied any explanation regarding the book eating Tohko. Not once in the story are we ever given any clarification. In fact, Tohko isn’t even the main character of the novel, regardless of the implications in the title. This left me confused for many reasons. Having a girl who eats paper and only having the protagonist joke wryly that she is a “goblin” left me feeling as if her special ability was merely thrown in to make the book have an element of fantasy. Obviously this is the first in a series of books, so I am willing to believe that her abilities play more of a role in future volumes. Ultimately though, the novel feels lacking in the beginning because of this.
To conclude, “Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime” is a gripping read filled with plot twists that will surprise and entertain readers till the very end. It’s a work that will come to be appreciated even more as time passes and the subject matter has been fully absorbed. Expressing the uncertainty in life, the ending is sure to receive mixed reactions. However, the feeling of discomfort is, in the end, positive for the readers, forcing them to reflect on the powerful themes of uncertainty and hope that the book has presented to them. They will hopefully come to see that though the falling sun may cause us to find ourselves lost in the growing darkness, the one thing we can hold strong to is the thought that the sunrise is just beyond the horizon.
Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.