Guest post: Zoe Marriott on her passion for Japanese culture



This post is part of the Japanese Fiction Week, hosted here.
For more information about the week, head over here.

~~~

Today I am thrilled to welcome Zoe Marriott, author of the fantastic Shadows On the Moon, to Portrait of a Woman. She will be talking to us about her passion for Japanese culture and her favourite books.


I'm really not an expert on Japan. People think that I am because I wrote Shadows on the Moon, which is set in a faerytale version of Feudal Japan. I've been praised for the amount of historical detail included, and sometimes people assume I must have visited Japan many times. But the fact is that I've never been there even once, although it's my life's ambition to, one day. And I've barely scratched the surface of this fascinating culture. 



I actually kind of like it that way. It means I've got so much more to learn, and that's the best way to feel about anything you love the way I love Japan. Because I really do. If Japan were a person and not a country, I would totally be it's stalker (also, wouldn't he or she be *gorgeous*?). Japan's many years of conscious and careful isolation up to the nineteenth century have resulted in a wealth of music, art, folklore, shared images and dreams and history which literally have no counterpart in any other country. In Europe and the Americas, in Russia, even in the middle east, it's possible to trace a mythological figure from nation to nation, transforming as he goes, or find a hundred different versions of the same story. Even China shares some of this. All that stops when you hit Japan. The fairytales and under-the-bed monsters, the turns of phrase that the Japanese people take for granted are utterly new and alien and all the more breathtakingly lovely and terrifying for that! 



The only other country I can think of with this kind of unexplored culture is Australia. But the aboriginal peoples of Australia were slaughtered and oppressed by white settlers who tried their best to stamp out the history of the land they had taken by force. The surviving indigenous people resent appropriation fiercely (for good reason, since they are trying so hard to recover and conserve that culture themselves!). The Japanese, on the other hand, still have a dominant and evolving cultural identity within their own nation. This allows them to appropriate freely from the rest of the world in their own media, and so it seems fair to borrow a little of their culture in return, even as an outsider. 


The obsession started young for me. Really young. So young that I can't tell you how old I was, only that I was small enough to sit cross legged in front of the television set and not get yelled at because my head was in the way. It was a Sunday afternoon and I'm pretty sure it was raining, but that's pretty much the only stuff I can remember about that day because every other braincell I have is taken up with the glorious, amazing, life-changing thing I saw. Hayao Miyazaki's animated film Laputa - now known as Castle in the Sky.

It's the story of a little orphan girl who is abducted by ruthless and ambitious men who intend to force her to reveal the secrets of her ancestor's power - the power to command a mythical floating city filled with unimaginable treasures and weapons of unbelievable power. There's a sweet, innocent love story, and sky pirates, and a moment when this tiny, round faced child stands resolute before a man who shoots off both her braids because she refuses to give up her secret to someone who will abuse it.

I'm pretty sure I never recovered. I mean, Disney was all very well (and you'll have to pry my copies of Beauty and the Beast and Tangled out of my cold dead hands) but COME ON. I'd never seen anything like Laputa in my life before. Beautiful, funny, disturbing, tragic, terrifying, unique and bittersweet, it exposed me to emotions and images that stayed with me for life. The girl flinging herself from the plane in desperation. The pendant glowing with a beautiful and sinister glow and her featherlike floating process through the sky, peaceful and serene. The glowing crystals in the underground caverns. The strangely lovely and mournful robots and their bird-like mechanical voices. The great city fallen to ruins, all covered in giant trees the size of skyscrapers and thick, jewel-like moss. When my brother tracked down a copy of this on DVD for me for Christmas one year (back before it was widely released in the English speaking world) I cried all over him. Not the reception he was probably going for. But it meant that much to me.


I think I've spent the last twenty-odd years of my life searching to recapture that feeling - the feeling of diving headfirst into a magical and unexplored country - again. Once I figured out who'd made Laputa I tracked down every other film he'd ever made and devoured them. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Nausicaa, My Neighbour Totoro, The Cat Returns. And when I ran out of Hayao Miyazaki I moved onto Paprika and Millenium Actress by Satoshi Kon. All these are a great place to start exploring this powerful artform and beginning to gain an inkling of how fascinating Japanese culture is.


But all these are, to a greater or lesser extent, fantasy. You can pick up a lot from fantasy, but let's say you'd like to start with something a little down to earth. How about trying one of of my ultimate all-time favourite mangas? The Flower of Life by Fumi Yoshinaga. Readily available in English, it's a four volume 'slice of life' series about a diverse group of friends and acquaintances (and their teachers) in the first years at Japanese high school. It's a poignant, touching, hilarious and wonderful portrait of how it feels to be young, with the constant rush to grow up doing battle with a nostalgia for fragile innocence which is inevitably slipping away. It's also beautifully drawn, and a great introduction to manga conventions, like reading from right to left.

Or perhaps you're in the mood for a romance - with a paranormal twist? How about Fruits Basket? It's a long running (now complete) series about a family who bear an ancient curse: they turn into animals from the Chinese zodiac when someone of the opposite sex hugs them. The story follows the misadventures of a young girl who gets mixed up with them by chance, grows to love several of them in different ways, and tries to help them overcome the curse. It starts out cute and fluffy and gets gradually darker, and is like a masterclass in subtle characterisation, presenting easy stereotypes to the reader and slowly peeling back the layers to reveal the contradictory, complex, real person beneath. Don't watch the anime though; it cuts off with a nonsensical ending nothing like the manga and left me very frustrated. 

Not keen on paranormal? Then how about just plain old hilarious? Ouran High School Host Club (again, a long running series that is now complete) is probably one of the the best mangas I've ever read. It freely mocks and subverts normal shojo (that's girl's manga) tropes while at the same time squeezing laughs out of them. Haruhi - a poor, out of place, genius scholarship student at a prestigious school full of the superrich - stumbles into the middle of a group of bored, privileged kids who run a 'host' club to amuse themselves. The tables turn constantly. One minute Haruhi is beliguered and bullied by the rich kids, the next they're scrambling to impress Haruhi. The anime for this is also superb, though it cuts off waaaay before the manga finished, so be prepared.


For shounen - that's 'boy's manga' - my recommendation is Bleach (which is also a very decent anime, if you skip the filler arcs where they were waiting for the manga to catch up and just shoved any old nonsense in there). It's a great, action-packed manga about Shinigami, Japanese soul reapers, and a young human boy who ends up accidentally taking on some of their powers and - well - kicking monster ass with a huge-ass sword. Can you ask for more? Neither the manga or the anime are complete though. I'm personally freaking the heck out over current developments, so be warned.

Now for a few recommendations in one of my favourite manga and anime categories. Yaoi. That's gay romance featuring blokes. Hyouta Fujiyama is a brilliant mangaka in this field - her books are sweet, funny and feature some of my favourite art. Spell, Lover's Flat, Freefall Romance and Ordinary Crushvols. 1 and 2 are a good place to start, if you can get them. Fumi Yoshinaga, the author of The Flower of Life, that I mentioned above, also dabbles in this field. She wrote Moon and Sandals vols. 1 and 2 and The First Class is Civil Law vols. 1 and 2, brilliant works about learning to accept other people for what they are, if you wish to be loved the same way in return. Lily Hoshino is another mangaka whose art is breathtaking. I love My Flower Bride, My Flower Groom and Love Quest. Another favourite is Little Butterfly, by Hinako Takanaga, which is three volumes, but available in an omnibus edition - a truly epic, and yet completely down to earth story of the transformations caused by true love. For anime in this field? If you can find a copy of Winter Cicada - the story of two young Samurai on opposite sides in the Japanese civil war, who fall in love - you're in for a treat, although you should have tissues handy. LOTS of tissues.

Some of these are available on Amazon or even in your local bookshop. For others you might need to go to specialist manga and anime sellers, or buy secondhand. But I promise that you will be well rewarded! Exploring Japanese culture is a journey which I don't think I'll ever come to the end of, and the more people who are travelling with me, the more fun it will be.

Zxx

~~~

Thanks Zoe for this post! I now have quite a few books (and anime) to track down on Amazon!


You can stalk Zoe:

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit - Nahoko Uehashi | Japanese Fiction Week



This post is part of the Japanese Fiction Week, hosted here.
For more information about the week, head over here.

~~~


Moribito is a best-selling fantasy series which has been adapted on screen, in manga form and on the radio. It is composed of twelve volumes but this review will only be about the first novel. The author, Nahoko Uehashi, is also teaching ethonology at a Japanese University.

Balsa is a spear woman and wandering warrior who tries to save people to atone for past mistakes. When she saves the life of Chagum, the Second Prince, she finds herself in the middle of old traditions and politics which will change her life. When it is suspected that the young prince's body is inhabited by a demon, the king sets to kill him. But Chagum's mother thwarts his plans by hiring Balsa to take Chagum far away from the palace and protect him. Because the knowledge has been lost in time, Chagum is falsely accused of having a demon in him. He was actually chosen to be the egg-bearer of a long forgotten god, in a journey which happens every hundred years. Chagum and Balsa have to face two deadly enemies: a mythical creature and the king's hunters.

Moribito is a lovely fantasy story which brings together fascinating characters and traditional myths. Balsa is a strong and impressive woman who was trained to be a warrior. She has an incomparable strength and set of skills which make her a deadly enemy. In a patriarchal society, she is different from most of the other women but she is highly respected. Torogai, an old woman who knows how to work magic, is also a strong female character and is stronger than several warriors. She also has a hilarious personality which helps diffuse the tension at times. Torogai's apprentice, Tanda (who is in love with Balsa), also helps protect Chagum. 

The world Nahoko Uehashi builds is filled with mystery as different people live on the same land and have different cultures and beliefs. The forgotten belief of the Moribito is part of the world where there is a parallel realm of spirits called Nayugu. Even though Chagum is set in the real world, he protects an egg in Nayugu until it hatches. The creatures of Nayugu are fascinating (especially, Rarunga, the nasty egg-eater) and inspired from Japanese culture.

The interesting part of Moribito is how much it could be compared to the real world. In this land which has seen a civilization overtake another, the cultural traditions of the previous people have been forgotten or hidden under the new civilization's. No one can remember what happened when other children have become egg-bearers and the old languages and traditions have all been forgotten. History isn't a factual and objective account of what happened, it's only what the victor wants history to remember. It's quite interesting to read those ideas in a book for young audiences, especially when the reader roots for Balsa and Torogai, who want all point of views and all cultures to be represented equally in the society.

Chagum doesn't choose to be the Moribito, the Guardian of the Spirit, and he goes through an angry phase where he keeps wondering "Why me?" and thinking how unfair life is. Through her similar experience, Balsa shares some words of wisdom to Chagum and changes his perspective on things. Life is often unfair and there isn't much one can do except accept his or her circumstance and get on with things. 

I have only read the first volume of this series and I am really looking forward reading the rest. It is a book which is not only an entertaining read for all ages, but also a book which illustrates brilliantly some ideas about tradition and how civilizations are created. 

Guest review: Out by Natsuo Kirino | Japanese Fiction Week



This post is part of the Japanese Fiction Week, hosted here.
For more information about the week, head over here.

~~~

Please welcome Nina from Death, Books and Tea for a review of Out by Natsuo Kirino.



Masako, Yoshie, Kuniko and Yayoi are four women working the night shift at a boxed lunch factory. Each have no prospects, and all want to escape. Yayoi is the one who cracks, killing her gambling husband. She turns to Masako, who gets Yoshie and Kuniko to help cut up the body. When the police come looking, all four have something to hide. But they've also got other enemies who want things-Satake, the night club owner with past convictions putting him at number one suspect, and Jumonji, the loan shark who knows what they did. With these people, the police, and the things they're being asked to do, the four women can't really think about getting out.

I am so glad that I decided to read this on holiday-hours of time to just sit and read and see this intricate story develop. I know I'm reviewing this for Japanese YA week, but this cannot be classed as YA. Sex, rape and murder feature heavily and the characters are at the youngest a twenty year old hostess. So now we've established this as being not for younger readers (something I found out a little late), on with the main review.

The only thing that I really disliked was the very final rape. Although it added a bit of continuity to the story, it was just a little too much. The other gore, rape and violence was used as plot development. But that was rape for the sake of rape. The start was a little slow. It just seemed to follow their normal lives, which I understand is useful, but it was a bit boring. Around the 50 page mark, the husband is murdered. And it goes quite fast from there.

All the main character's personal stories are fully developed both before and during the main action. It's difficult for me, as a teenager at school, to get into the minds of women and men in their thirties upwards. But it was really easy for me to understand their thinking.

The thing that got to me was how easily the women lied while being questioned by the police after the murder took place. For it to have been about a week since she killed a man, she lies, fakes tears, and gets on so easily that you wonder about the girl you were introduced to and how she was changed so much by desperation. Masako especially is a very intriguing character. I liked reading about her, seeing what she'd decide next, and so on. She was definitely changed by the murder.

The quick pace and the style of the translation kept me reading. It's also really unpredictable, with some things crossing your mind as you read. They're so mean to the characters that you wonder if they really will happen. Then you dismiss it. And then it happens.



Strength 5 tea (or 5/5) to a gritty look at the backside of Japan, the ordinary people living there, and the depths of the human psyche.

Thanks for hosting this awesome event!

~~~

It sounds pretty awesome - I'm really looking forward reading it!

Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto | Japanese Fiction Week


This post is part of the Japanese Fiction Week, hosted on this blog.
For more information about the week, head over here.

~~~


Banana Yoshimoto is one of Japan's greatest contemporary writers alongside Haruki Murakami, and Kitchen is her d├ębut novel which became a best-seller in Japan. The English edition of the novel also includes the short story Moonlight Shadow at the end.

Kitchen is divided into two parts. The first part sees a young woman, Mikage Sakurai, lose the only member of her family she has left, her grandmother. She is completely lost and befriends Yuichi, a friend of her grandmother who works in a flower shop and who invites her to live with him and his mother while Mikage sorts out her life. Yuichi's mother, Eriko, was initially her dad before she decided to change sex and we get an interesting insight about what it's like to live as a transgender. Yuichi is also familiar with grief as his mother died when he was younger. The second part, still told from Mikage's point of view, sees Yuichi dealing with grief while Mikage has found a work she enjoys and is finally overcoming her sense of loss. They also both deal with their feelings for each other. The bond they share is quite unique and they're here for each other when they need it.

In Kitchen, Mikage and Yuichi realise that the world doesn't exist for their benefit and sometimes horrible things happen over which they have no control. I found the writing fascinating to read and how Mikage is seen coping with her loss. She concentrates on small things, her love of kitchens and cooking, while inside her a storm is raging. Why does everyone close to her dies? How can she survive if she is all alone? Does she still exist and is she still the same if the people who knew her the most aren't here to see her anymore?

The love and the sense of family she is given in Yuichi and Eriko's home helps her build herself back together little by little. It's always the small things in life which ground you and enable you to get on with your life. Mikage becomes increasingly passionate about food and cooking and is always preparing fabulous meals for Yuichi or Eriko, and later finds a job as an assistant to a cooking teacher. The passages with food and eating are amazingly woven into the story as a lifeline for the characters. Eating is what keeps you alive and the simple activity of preparing and eating a good meal is one of the best pleasures in life. Mikage is obsessed with kitchens (hence the title) and it is fascinating to read why it is her favourite place in the house. 


Moonlight Shadow is a beautiful short story about loss and grief and it is very fitting that it's published after Kitchen. A young woman named Satsuki loses her boyfriend in a car accident and is plagued by her grief and the feeling that she could have done something to prevent the accident. She grows closer to Hiiragi, her boyfriend's brother, who is coping with the death of his girlfriend who passed away in the same accident. Hiiragi copes by wearing his girlfriend's clothes to school. Both are lost and it is beautiful to read how a shared grief is a road you often have to walk alone. 
One morning, Satsuki meets a strange woman named Urura who introduces her to a mystical experience, which Satsuki believes is linked to her boyfriend's death. I won't spoil the experience but it is amazing. Moonlight Shadow also features food and Satsuki says how much she enjoys eating tasty food in the company of Hiiragi. 


Both stories show some of Banana Yoshimoto's trademark themes: loss, gender identity, love and friendship and the small pleasures of life. There is also an undercurrent of magical realism in both stories. Mikage and Yuichi have grown so close that they can (or believe they can, which is roughly the same thing) talk to each other in their dreams and thoughts. Satsuki gets to see something incredible and unique during the mystical experience Urura shows her. The magical aspect is only hinted and appears quite realistic since it's perceived as such by the narrators. The loss of someone close is terribly hard to deal with, and sometimes, a little hope - even if not explainable or actually real - is all you need to get you through another day.


I really loved both stories and I think they're fantastic short reads. The writing is beautiful and the emotional state of the characters is brilliantly portrayed. Even though the book is about loss and grief, the stories are quite hopeful and make you think about life in general and your place in this world. I will definitely be reading more of this author.


Note: You might want to read this book in the vicinity of a Japanese restaurant to order all the food you have been reading about!

Guest review: Norwegian Woods by Haruki Murakami | Japanese Fiction Week


This post is part of the Japanese Fiction Week hosted on this blog.
For more information about the week, head over here.


~~~ 


Please welcome Laura from SisterSpooky for a review of Norwegian Woods and some of her thoughts on Japanese fiction.




I am by no means an expert on Japanese culture but it just fascinates me so.  I think I really just became drawn to the weird and wonderful beauty that was all around it. From the anime world of Pokemon (which was the first big thing to do with Japan that I remembered being obsessed with) to Manga and Cosplay that began to become more and more popular over the years as I attended comic cons around London and as I got older I began to explore more of the culture. I think the clash of the old and the new worlds made me fall in love with Japan.  I've never visited it but it's the one place in the world I want to see before I kick the bucket.  So when I started to find my love for books again during my university years I was given a book by a Japanese author that I want to shout about. I'd call this a review of sorts.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami was a game charger book for me. I had been going along quite happily reading the same sort of books over and over again by American or sometimes English authors and then a friend gave me her copy to read and I think it quite possibly blew my mind. I'd say it's a book for an older YA audience only because of the issues of suicide and depression and references to sex but it was simply a wonderful book. It opened my eyes to books that were written by authors that don't come from a Western society and how their view on the world can be so different but the emotions behind the story are the same and raw like in any other culture.
It's a story of a young man who is in love or thinks he is and trying to find himself in the world at a time when politics and society are shifting and he's struggling to understand where he fits in the world and how his life and the life of the girl he idolises changes. It strikes so many chords and I just loved how it related to the power of music in their lives; namely The Beatles and the power their music holds for them. I think that if you've read The Perks of Being A Wallflower and want something else with that kind of power in a book I'd suggest you get a hold of Norwegian Wood as soon as you can.
It's made me want to try more Japanese authors and wondering what YA is like for Japanese readers and if it translates the same way the Western YA novels do. We all share the same feelings and have the same struggles so seeing it first hand in a book like Norwegian Wood made me want to try more. Thanks to the last Japanese YA week hosted by Portrait of a Woman I found so many more books to try and have Real World by Natsuo Kirino and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami on the TBR pile!
If Japanese Fiction Week gives you anything then let it give you that brave push to try something new. You may find your new favourite book!
~~~
Thanks for your review and thoughts on YA, Laura! I have yet to read Norwegian Woods (though I did see the film) and I find it interesting that you compare it to The Perks Of Being A Wallflower!

Guest review: Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi | Japanese Fiction Week


This post is part of the Japanese Fiction Week hosted on this blog.
For more information about the week, head over here.

~~~

Please welcome Andrew from The Pewter Wolf who will be reviewing Sailor Moon!


Before I start, I want to quickly thank Caroline for allowing me to write for her blog again. Writing for her blog means I read books that are outside my comfort-zone and I always like to be pushed every once in awhile.


Usagi Tsukino is a normal girl. Until she meets a talking cat, Luna, who tells her that she’s a guardian, known as Sailor Moon, who must fight the forces of evil. Not only that, she must find the rest of the Sailor Scouts, find the Legendary Silver Crystal and the mysterious Moon Princess...


Now, I’m pretty sure most of us outside of Japan know of Sailor Moon through the TV show (where Usagi Tsukino was called Serena), so we’re a bit nostalgic on this. I watched the show when I was younger on a now-non-existing Fox Kids so I read this and went “OK. That idea comes from here!”


However, if you haven’t watch the TV show or aren’t really aware of Sailor Moon, the whole thing sounds a bit... stupid and a tad laughable. A fourteen year old self-confessed crybaby and slacker (there’s no other way to say it) is trusted to save the world with a group of other girls wearing short-skirted sailors outfit. Oh, and the main love interest is a guy who uses roses as a weapon. Seriously, roses as a weapon!


But, if you don’t take it seriously, this is really charming. There’s something about it where you go with it, with all its silliness. I am going to admit that I have very little experience with anime and manga (I have read a manga, Fake, and I have watched some anime films such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and some TV shows like Pokemon & Digimon [do they count?]) but the artwork in here is really good. There are some panels which are very carefully drawn, while others were silly and fun.


However, one thing fans of the TV show will notice is how fast this moves. There are six acts in volume one and, by the end of act five, we are already introduce to Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars and Sailor Jupiter. Yeah, it moves quickly. And by the end of Act Six, Usagi discovers the identity of Tuxedo Mask (the main love interest), whereas in the TV show, the viewers realise who it is when we’re introduced to Sailor Venus and Usagi/Serena figures it out much later.


If you want something fun, fluffy and a nice, easy introduction to manga, this might be what you’re looking for. If you’re the fan of the TV show, you’ll like this. If you’re already into manga or want something more deep, then you might want to give this a miss. But if you go in this with an open mind, you might be surprised...



Click on picture to enlarge

~~~

Thanks for your review Andrew - I watched the anime when I was younger and I can't wait to read the manga version!


Japanese Fiction Week - 18th to 24th June 2012


Hi all,

After the success of my Japanese YA Novel Week last year, I decided to organise another one and invite some other Japanese lit fans to participate!

Last time, Nina from Death, Books and Tea and I concentrated more on the Young Adult market and the Japanese Light Novels (short and sometimes in manga form). This week, we will be broadening the scope of our reads and review a variety of authors and genres.

Contemporary Japanese literature is getting more and more popular abroad. Literary writers like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto sell millions of copies worldwide, and their books are must-reads for book fans. Manga and anime are becoming more and more mainstream with Hollywood films of popular Japanese stories bringing new audiences to the books. The success of The Hunger Games has reignited interest in the epic Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. Japan also brought us a wave of critically-acclaimed female crime fiction writers like Natsuo Kirino whose raw and violent stories are translated in many countries.

Japanese literature is booming and for this week, we will be presenting you with some of the best Japanese books (we think) available in English!

~~~

Here's what you will be reading this week:

Mon: Introduction post (you're reading it now :))
Tues: Review of Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi, by Andrew from The Pewter Wolf
Wed: Review of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, by Laura from SisterSpooky
Fri: Review of Out by Natsuo Kirino, by Nina from Death, Books and Tea
Sun: Guest post from Zoe Marriott

We all hope you will find some new interesting books or genres you want to dip into.

Have a lovely week!

Girl Meets Boy - Ali Smith



Summary from Amazon:
"Girl Meets Boy" - It's a story as old as time. But what happens when an old story meets a brand new set of circumstances? Ali Smith's re-mix of Ovid's most joyful metamorphosis is a story about the kind of fluidity that can't be bottled and sold. It is about girls and boys, girls and girls, love and transformation, a story of puns and doubles, reversals and revelations. Funny and fresh, poetic and political, "Girl Meets Boy" is a myth of metamorphosis for the modern world.

~~~

There are things in life which I can never truly explain. They can be fundamental to my essence as a person, or a mere whim, but I can never find the right words to explain exactly why that is. Being a reader is one of these things. I love reading. A large part of my time is spent reading, or talking about reading and even thinking about reading. That's just what I do. Other readers understand (we even have a secret handshake and everything), but to non-readers or occasional readers, I find it hard to put into words what reading does to me, why I do it so much and why that's what I do when I could easily spend time watching cricket or becoming an astronaut. 

After finishing Girl Meets Boy, my first thought was - "THAT'S why I read". That's it. There hasn't been a better example than the 180 pages of this book to remind me why I am a reader. The story is rich, unpredictable, deep, funny. The characters are quite simply mesmerizing, whether they're too involved in their routines or projecting ideas to the universe. And the writing is just exquisite. An elaborate dish you're both eager and almost too afraid to start eating for fear of never being able to experience that first impression again

I'm going borderline lyrical on this (fine, I've reached and passed that border) because I just fell in love with the book. Which is appropriate because this book is about love. And not just any kind of love. That incredible feeling you have when you fall in love for the first time. When you feel yourself falling and falling and falling into immense all-encompassing emotions you never thought your heart could hold. This book has some of the most beautifully written love scenes I have ever read.


Set in Inverness, the book is told from the point of view of two very different sisters, Anthea and Imogen. When Anthea is wild, spiritual and clever, Imogen (Midge) is serious, unobtrusive and very eager to please and succeed. Midge works at a bottled water company, Pure, and wants to evolve in her role despite being surrounded by sexist men. There is only one person she likes, Paul, but she fears he might be gay. Midge manages to get Anthea a work experience position at the same place, but Anthea doesn't really care much about her career or the company. One day, everyone in the company witnesses an eco-warrior trespassing and writing something against Pure on a wall.  Everyone is appalled except Anthea. She immediately falls for Robin, the girl who painted the wall (and who she happens to mistake for a boy at first). After falling for Robin, Anthea questions her sexuality and her identity. After this happens, Midge can't stop thinking about the consequences of her sister being gay.


The political ideas behind the characters' stories bring more depth to the book and make it very inspiring to read. I loved the idea that every little thing can have a bigger impact in the end. There are also quite a few statistics about gender inequalities which are just shocking and almost make you want to grab a paintbrush too. 


The book is an interpretation of the story of Iphis, in Ovid's Metamorphosis. The girl who was brought up as a boy to prevent her father's wrath and who appeals to the gods on the day of her wedding to be changed into a boy so that she can make her future wife happy. The story of Robin and Anthea is wonderfully told from the point of view of the two sisters. I loved reading the passages in Midge's point of view, seeing all the doubts in her head, as well as her beliefs. Her transformation was one of the most interesting things in the book. 


I'm going to stop now, because I could go on for hours. But do read this book for the sheer beauty of its writing and for the journey. 
~~~
Here are some quotes I'd like to share:


Robin telling Anthea about Iphis:
"The thing is, Iphis and Ianthe had actually, for real, very really, fallen in love.
Did their hearts hurt? I said. Did they think they were underwater all the time? Did they feel scoured by light? Did they wander about not knowing what to do with themselves?"


Anthea about Robin's smile:
"Then I saw her smile so close to my eyes that there was nothing to see but the smile, and the thought came into my head that I'd never been inside a smile before, who'd have thought being inside a smile would be so ancient and so modern both at once?"


Paul and Imogen's thinking:
"I feel met by you, he says afterwards. It's weird.
(That's exactly what it feels like. I felt met by him the first time I saw him. I felt met by him all the times we weren't even able to meet each other's eyes.)"


~~~

Also, Nymeth has posted a lovely review of this book on her blog Things Mean A Lot with some other quotes (here)




Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith | 2007 | Canongate | I read the ebook version