Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Girl And The Famished Spirit

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

When I was reviewing the first Book Girl, I noted that its main plot drew on the novel No Longer Human. This second book also draws on a novel, but actually knowing what it is might give away spoilers, so I will avoid mentioning it.

The first Book Girl novel had its dark and creepy moments, but overall was a light, fun read. This second book was also an excellent read, but was not remotely what I'd call light and fun. We're dealing with some horrible themes here, including a mental, physical and emotional torture that surprised me by its ferocity. Usually when someone talks about someone being 'tortured' in a manga or novel these days, they don't mean it literally. Not here - this is torture of a young girl, plain and simple, and we see its effects play out before us.

As for our regular cast, they go through a bit as well. Konoha, our hero, is still attempting to get over the tragic events of his past, and despite Tohko's calming presence, he's still prone to constant self-doubt and panic attacks. As the novel goes on and he discovers more of Hotaru's backstory, he starts to realize certain similarities between his own thoughts and the plotting of the main villain. Konoha is haunted not only by his friend Miu, but also by Miu his alter ego author, whose book seems so idealistic and innocent to him... and disgusts him now. As with the first book in the series, we don't get a sense that he's resolved much of his inner turmoil, but at least here he sees a mirror to himself that shows what not to do.

Nanase has another small role in this book, and continues to be such a stereotypical tsundere that I am wondering if it's a false front. Either that or she's the one character written in to get the typical anime fan reading. Maki, however, has a much bigger and more vital role in this novel, and even manages to go beyond being the 'information broker' type that she usually embodies. Indeed, the epilogue to this story is written by her, and unlike the first book, Tohko does not get to read and eat it - this epilogue is private, and meant for only one other person. Oh yes, and speaking of the typical anime fan, I have no doubt that Maki (offscreen) getting Tohko to dress up as a cat waitress and going meow led to 87 billion fanart pictures in Japan.

Tohko, meanwhile, is the detective, though she's far less successful here than she was in the first book, and leaps to a lot of misunderstandings. Tohko seems far more like a normal teenager here than she did in Suicidal Mime, and it's too her benefit. Her fight with Konoha is filled with easily cleared-up misunderstandings that aren't cleared up as neither party talks with each other. I'm still not sure if there's going to be a romance here - she displays some jealousy towards Konoha supposedly seeing other girls, but I'm not sure how much of that is fueled by Nanase and how much is her own feelings. Also the addition of Ryuto to the cast (and I'm not sure what to think of him at all - I hope he shows up in future books) allows us to see some of her thoughts and actions from a POV other than that of Konoha, and reveals how much she depends on him.

And then there are the stars of this book, Hotaru and Kayano. Really, it's hard to go into their characters without giving too much away, but they are the highlight of the book, and give the climax a stunning power even though if you analyze it it's just a bunch of people shouting at each other. You want Hotaru to be saved - indeed, the lengths that Maki goes to trying to do just that are impressive - and yet at the same time you see the yawning chasm that separates this book from the happy, fluffy ending that Konoha's alter ego would once have written about.

It's always hard to recommend a book when there's so much you don't want to give away. Still, this is a great book. The characters have an excellent depth (mostly, Nanase is still a bit of a caricature), the plotting is nerve-wracking, and Yen's translation is excellent. Definitely recommended, though I'd avoid reading it on a cold and rainy evening.

1 comment:

  1. > This second book also draws on a novel, but actually knowing what it is might give away spoilers, so I will avoid mentioning it.

    That having been said, I would expect mostly anyone who had graduated high school to recognize what book it is.

    > [Konoha] starts to realize certain similarities between his own thoughts and the plotting of the main villain.

    This was a critical moment - in fact, it is, IMHO, (the* critical moment of the book. Without Konoha's empathy and identification, readers would be completely incapable of sympathizing with the "villian" (even if they did understand what book lay behind the plot.) It is preceisely because we are in Konoha's head that we can read this at all. Otherwise, it might be too awful to bear.

    The moment I realized "what Nomura had done there," I had to acknowledge that she really is a good writer. Teen Lit has always been a favorite of mine, and this series has risen to the top of the Teen Lit I've read in Japanese.

    A good writer, writing about writing and reading, for writers and readers of books. I'm in for the long haul now.

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