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Book Girl and the Captive Fool by Mizuki…

Book Girl and the Captive Fool

by Mizuki Nomura

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Book Girl (3)

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This is another very compelling volume in the series. Nomura seemd to be doing very well with pacing, slowly building up an overall dramatic arc between the stories, while telling complex self-contained stories based on particular Japanese classics. She relies on two conceits: the Book Girl herself, and the overt parallels between the story and its source, which are discussed thoroughly within the story - they're not subtle, they're a deliberate savouring and echoing of the old, and a fact of the setting. Providing you're willing to accept these (not a big ask) they are excellent.

I personally preferred this to the previous volume, finding it much less problematic. While continuing to invoke mental illness as part of the stories, I found its manifestation here (obsession, destructive behaviour and self-harm) much more believable as part of a complex set of relationships between flawed people. The problems were self-evidently difficult to detect and to deal with, and it's not clear even to the reader exactly what could have been done when to keep things from spiralling as they did.

At the same time, Nomura spins a touching and compelling story of personal worries, complex relationships, and the general tumult of life that's very typical of adolescence but never really goes away. I was quite moved by it at several points.

That said, I'll highlight one issue that I've had throughout the stories - I often find I slightly lose track of what's actually happening, not in the immediate central story, but in the problems that the Book Club help with. The source material is often a bit intricate to begin with, there's a certain amount of (unnecessary?) authorial sleight-of-hand to help keep the mystery mysterious until the last, and characters fairly frequently turn out to have changed names for no very clear reason. Added to the fact that Japanese culture uses both first and last names alternately, the unfamiliarity of those names, and the way the main characters are always reflecting the behaviour of other (equally confusing) characters in some source novel or other... well, I tend to lose track of who people are.

Spoilers follow!

In this one, for example, we know there's a love triangle going on, and someone is obsessively destroying things. But Nomura always likes to pull bait-and-switch. Character A in the present seems to be Character B from ten years ago, but actually they're Character C (this, or something like it, always happens)! And the relationship of characters B and C in the past was actually just about the opposite of what was suggested (ditto). And Character A has changed their name from C to A for no apparent reason other than obfuscation, never explained in the story. And quite a lot of work has gone into trying to make sure you do get this wrong until it's explained. Also, everyone lies a lot to each other about what's going on.

Despite having just finished it, I don't think I could accurately sum up what *actually* happened over the years, and correctly separate this from what's very strongly implied to mislead you, what the characters say happened that isn't true, and things I just misunderstood. I do wonder whether the stories wouldn't be equally strong without this level of obfuscation, if Nomura would trust the reader to enjoy the mystery and character development without trying to keep it under wraps until the last minute, allowing them to know the truth before the protagonist twigs.

Sorry, explaining that took a lot of space, but it's not such a big complaint as it appears. These remain very enjoyable books and I look forward to the next. ( )
  Shimmin | Dec 4, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mizuki Nomuraprimary authorall editionscalculated
McGillicuddy, KarenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When Tohko, a goblin who is also known as Book Girl because she loves literature so much that she actually devours it, discovers a library book with pages sliced out, she also learns of the darkness in the heart of one of her classmates.

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