A quick search confirms some basic facts about this book, including the oft repeated fact that it is an astonishing debut. Written in the style of a series of short stories that share a common thread the writing style never seems forced and flows from tense set pieces to languid descriptive prose without missing a beat, and somehow manages to keep both the stories and the reader involved.
Tackling a diverse set of scenarios is never going to be easy, and the sheer breadth of scope in this book – ranging as it does from a young record store clerk in Tokyo, a British investment banker in Hong Kong, an old woman running a noodle shop on the side of a holy mountain in China, a former courtesan turned art thief in St. Petersburg, a philandering ghostwriter in London, an Irish scientist hiding out in her hometown, a Manhattan DJ, a demented follower of a Japanese doomsday cult and even a disembodied entity that travels from one human host to another via touch – means it has plenty of ground to cover but it never feels stretched. Instead it revels in the ability to concentrate on one tiny piece of existence and without ever overwhelming the reader, conveys a whole and complete picture at each juncture.
As I mentioned, some of the writing is sumptuous to read yet never strays too far from the narrative, and this may be the books undoing for whilst the idea that we are all connected, literally so in the books closing pages, that “cause and effect” has many levels, and that whilst we may all be doing it in different ways we are all searching for our true selves, rings true for many a reader and allows some poetic license when leaping from one subject to another it does, in the end, undermine the literary element of this book; hanging a variety of narratives on the same hook leaves little room for much else.
I’d still be happy to recommend that you read this, if nothing else it will prompt you consider your own life and your place in the world. The only minor quibble is whether or not the book needs a more traditional closing chapter as you never fully feel that all the threads, that are constantly woven and interspersed throughout, ever tie up.
But then, as in life, maybe that’s the point.