So it's winter, hence this is my last book review. I may write book reviews again in the future, but for now, this is my last one. I like reading books, and it's such a shame that I don't have enough time to read new books anymore. Whilst I was in high school, I spend all my breaks reading books or drawing manga. One of the girls teased me by calling me 'Belle' because I always had my nose in a book ^_^ But I just don't have that kind of time anymore. This year I have read 'Let the right one in', 'The collector' (<- what a horrible book this was! Now I'm scarred for life!) and now I'm reading (reading very very slowly) 'Purge' by our pet author Sofi Oksanen.
Earlier this year, I reread 'The Salaryman's Wife'. However the first Rei book I read was the 4th book because the Finnish title 'The Deathly Manga' (english title The Floating Girl) had caught my eye. I was shopping in a discount book store and at that time I was really into anime and manga and I was studying Japanese. When I saw the manga character on the cover and read the index text, I had to buy it. 'The Deathly Manga' turned out to be really interesting, and the plot made sense, even though I had missed the first 3 books. What I really liked about the book though was Massey's insightful and vast depiction of Japanese culture. I had read books about Japan's language and culture on my own, yet I discovered bunch of stuff from Massey's books that I didn't already know about Japan. I learned something new about Japan from every Rei Shimura book =D My favourite Rei book is 'Girl in a Box' which is the 9th book in the series. I also like 'Zen Attitude' very very much, it's the 2dn book in the series. And of course I like 'The Salaryman's Wife' too.
There are 10 books in the series and 6 years ago Massey said that 'The Shimura Trouble' was the last. HOWEVER, earlier this year, she announced on her website that she is currently writing a new Rei Shimura book set in post-tsunami Tohoku. We'll just have to wait and see what comes out of that Rei book.
I definately recommend The Rei Shimura Mysteries to everyone who's interested in Japan. 'The Salaryman's Wife' is the first book in the series.
Rei Shimura is a young Japanese-American woman in her late twenties. She was born in California and her mother is American and her father is Japanese. She has recently moved to her beloved Tokyo and works as an english teacher at Nichiyu (homeware company). However her real interest lies in Japanese antiques.
The book starts with Rei who's on her way to Shiroyama, a small village situated in the Japanese Alps. On the train she meets an American woman, Mrs. Chapman, who's also going to Shiroyama. Upon their arrival they meet the other guests and Mrs. Yogetsu, the rather unpleasant hostess/owner of the Minshuku (japanese B&B). When Rei goes to take a bath, she notices that the door is slightly jammed. Her bath is then interrupted by a gaijin (foreigner) man who misunderstood the women's bath for men's bath. Rei drives him off. She later meets him in the dining room. Hugh Glenning is a Scottish lawyer who lives in Tokyo. He's at Shiroyama to celebrate New Year's with his co-workers. His client Mr. Nakamura is there with his wife Setsuko, she is a very close friend of Hugh's. There's also a Japanese couple, Taro and Yuki, who befriend with Rei. Taro has come to Shiroyama to 'investigate' old crimes.
Besically the opening is like straight from Agatha Christie's books, all the suspects have now gathered in the same place.
Later that evening Rei goes to fetch Mrs. Chapman for a moon light walk with the group. Hugh interrupts her search to apologize for disturbing her in the bath. They are interrupted by Setsuko who's on her way to the bath.
The next morning Rei discovers that the door to the bath (The 'female' sign is on) is locked. When she finally yanks the door open, she discovers that a piece of paper has been keeping the door jammed. Inside she meets Yuki who says the door was locked all night last night and the bath area was left untidy. In the afternoon Rei meets Hugh and Mr. Nakamura who are searching for Setsuko. She has been missing since last night. Oddly Mr. Nakamura doesn't seem at all concerned that his wife has gone missing and so he goes skiing as planned. Rei wants to spend some time by herself, so she goes to take a walk around the garden only to discover Setsuko's body in the snow.
There's a police search and they ask Rei to be their translator for the time being. The police chief Okuhara is immediately convinced that it was a foreigner who killed Setsuko. Evidently someone had hit her in the head with a bath...uumm..seat cover and thrown her out the window. Hence Hugh, Rei and Mrs. Chapman become 'primary suspects' (because a Japanese would never murdered anyone).
That was the opening. To
me it didn't feel like the plot was going too slowly, because the murder occured in less than 40 pages. That's rather soon, and hey when
you read a murder-detective novel, you're anxious to know who
gets killed right? Meaning that the character/s will spend the rest of the book searching for the killer. That's pretty much the layout in this book, Setsuko was killed and so we'll try to figure out who killed her for the next 350 pages.
To get away from the depressing atmosphere at the minshuku, Rei goes shopping in the village and buys an antique mail box, later she finds Hugh in a bar. Long story short Hugh tells Rei that Setsuko wanted a divorce. The rest of that part Massey spends documenting her vast knowledge of Japan, nothing that's relevant to the plot though.
Sometime at dawn Rei awakes to a terrible smell in her room. She realizes that the heater in her room is broken and it's leaking gas. Rei crawls across the room and tries to open the door, but it's jammed. Before she passes out, Hugh comes to her rescue. He carries her to his room and lets her sleep on his futon whilst he works.
In the morning Rei and Hugh do a little investigation of their own. Rei is convinced that someone had tried to kill her, because she had told the police about the locked bathroom door and about the piece of paper she had found jammed between the door to the bath. They discover another piece of paper between Rei's door, which confirms that someone is trying to kill her. Hugh leaves for his meeting, but Rei follows him to the hotel and decides to wait for him at the bar. Later they share a taxi to the minshuku and this is where they share their first kiss. And later that night they have sex. Hugh leaves in the morning to go skiing with his collegues. Rei, still in his room finds the pearl necklace Setsuko was wearing the night she was killed. Rei decides to leave Shiroyama then and there.
That was 'the first act'. I'm now going to jump to the end because if I told you everything what happens in the book, I'd be writing this until next monday --_-- and you'd have stopped reading long since. In reality, nothing that relevant happens in the next 330 pages. Only pages 380-386 are important. We discover that Setsuko's husband had an affair with his secretary and Setsuko was secretly supporting her love child Mariko. Mariko (a bar-escort) thought Setsuko was her aunt. In the end, Setsuko was Mrs. Chapman's husband's girlfriend before he moved back to the States. Setsuko had Mariko and Mr. Chapman continued to support them from the States. Mrs. Chapman knew about this, but after her husband died, she discovered that he was spending the money reserved for their daughter, on Setsuko and Mariko. Setsuko contacted Mrs. Chapman to demand more money for Mariko so Mrs. Chapman came to Japan to talk to her in person. At the minshuku, she locked the door to the bath and accidentally killed Setsuko with the seat cover. Mrs. Chapman tells Rei everything and attempts to kill her. Hugh comes for her rescue again. TADAAH, that's how it ends. Mrs. Chapman killed Setsuko and Rei moves in with Hugh. Oh and that antique mail box Rei bought, it turnes out that it was a property of a Princess who lived on Shiroyama. Rei gains more publicity with the discovery and thus is able to begin her career in Japanese antiques.
Granted this book was way too long. The little bits in the middle, like when Rei went to the docks to find out about Mariko's father, was really dragging the story, not to mention all the bar scenes. Maybe it was necessary to make Rei invastigate all sorts of leads, to achieve that realistic feeling. The story is filled with these little bits that aren't necessary for the plot, although they make the story seem more real. Granted, she can't be like Hercule Poirot who just interviews people and lurks around and within 2 days knows who the killer is. In fact Rei wasn't suppose to do any detective stuff because she was an innocent bystander. However she sort of became one when Hugh sent her to Setsuko's wake. So I understand that Rei is primarily leading her own life, and on the side, tries to discover how Setsuko was linked to Mariko and who killed her.
So perhaps it's Massey's writing style that slows down the plot. Scratch that, the plot keeps dragging because it's filled with unnecessary bits and pieces that really don't do anything for the story. Come to think of it, 'The Salaryman's Wife' seems more like a very long blog post, than an actual novel. Novel's should be sharp, and witty, and what can be left out, is left out. I regard the Rei series as lite entertainment and 'Japan lovers guide to Japan' than mind blowing literature. However that's what I really appreciate, Massey's bonafied knowledge of Japan. Whilst reading the books one will notice all the work and research Massey went through to get all the facts and customs of Japan right. I really appreciate that and like I said, from every Rei book I learned something new about Japan. Because the series is set in Japan, I'm able to enjoy it and disregard all the flaws the stories have. But it's not like I'm grinding my teeth when Massey is not talking about Japan. I like the plots and the characters and Rei...well she has some characteristic issues. She is made to look like she is really complex, whilst in reality she is very easy to figure out.
only thing I find a little tacky about Rei, is the fact that she is
almost literally, Massey herself. Massey used to live in Japan and she
worked as an english teacher. She has dual nationality, just like Rei
does, and Massey was (is?) really into antiques. Needless to say, Rei is
a fantasy version of Massey. To me it is tacky when a writer has to
lend their personality and quirks to their main character. It
gives the impression that the writer couldn't come up with a better
main character, so they put themselves in the book, so basically they
are writing a fanfiction about themselves. I'm curious to know whether Rei really is a depiction of Massey herself, or is there a story of how Rei came to Massey? Don't
get me wrong, I'm not saying there's something wrong about Rei. I actually identified with her a little
in book 2, when I was 15. In my opinion, she is very mature for her age, perhaps too mature, and she's rather cold too. I'm in my mid
twenties and I'm still rather childish, but perhaps that's one of my
quirks. Rei on the other hand, is very much a grown up, although I think
she has some real issues with men. But you won't see that until you meet
all her boyfriend candidates.
I imagine that reading Rei books would be rather boring if
we just followed the plot plot religiously, hence I like to think that the books are just stories of one woman's life in Japan. And you'll love these books if you enjoy reading novels about Japan =) I have 7 Rei books on my bookshelf and I'll keep rereading them. I even have Massey's autograph in my 'Pearl Diver' book. If you don't take it too seriously, literature-wise, I'm sure you'll enjoy this series!
I hope you liked this review on 'The Salaryman's Wife'. It was probably very wishy-washy, but I have been ill. And I'm still to write Novembre's artist review ^_^' Oh boy, I'm running out of time again.
See you in a few days!!