Dec 11, 2012

[Books] 100 Years of Vicissitude

Since I invest a bit of time in cross-posting portions of my book reviews over on Amazon, I periodically get offers for review copies for various novels. And despite the gazillion other books left in my reading queue, I do my best to slot these titles a little earlier just so that I can give the author feedback about his work as soon as possible. And like I've mentioned in the introductions of other such book reviews, the experience has certainly been an interesting one, thus introducing me to some rather interesting new books and thus new authors.

This book came along and tickled my fancy with respect to its touching on Japanese culture - something that I'm quite passionate about as evidenced by the fact that I own practically all the books written by Haruki Murakami and I have quite a thing for sushi buffets. But that's not an automatic equation for success when you get down to it, and thus perhaps I should have stuck more to books more in my typical interest range.

Given the nature of this book was a bit outside of my comfort zone that probably colored my appreciation for the title. Initially it was a bit difficult for me to really get into the book, but I eventually overcame that in time.

Synopsis: 100 Years of Vicissitude is the second novel by Andrez Bergen, an Australian author who has been based in Japan for over 11 years now. This is his second novel after Tabacco-Stained Mountain Goat. While while this title is not a direct sequel,, other reviews indicate that they do appear to be set in the same universe. I can't confirm since I haven't read the prior book.

The book begins with the death of Wolram Deaps, who apparently was the antagonist in Tabacco-Stained Mountain Goat. But despite his death, the book is told from his perspective, although it is never fully clear whether he is now a spirit of some sort or perhaps his consciousness is somehow being kept alive otherwise. All that is clear is that he was shot in the head and now we are following him around as the book is told from the first person perspective.

He eventually comes across the small and simple home of one Kohona - a Japanese geisha who lived at least a generation before Wolram. Why these two souls have found one another in this strange purgatory-like realm is uncertain, but they end up slow sharing details about one another and eventually primarily through Kohana's memories and eventually Wolram's as well.

The book has a bit of an awkward start, most especially if you haven't read the first book (I again assume this based on other reviews). At the very least, I felt like I lacked a clear reason to follow Wolram along since he isn't exactly a very agreeable fellow. He has a thing for using fairly complex language that isn't too hard to understand - it just makes the rhythm of things a bit awkward. It's hard to determine if this is simply how the character was written or it reflects the writing style of the author himself.

Things get a bit worse when Kohana comes along since the two don't like one another but end up continuing to talk to one another because there's simply no one else. And thus Wolram is largely dragged along to witness seemingly random moments in Kohana's life since we are following her train of thought and not the chronological sequence of things. And the whole time the two are snipping and snarling at one another, trading slightly awkward insults that don't come across as entirely witty but just a way to express their disdain for one another without swearing.

When you get past their bickering, the book has a lot to say about World War II Japan, and thus has strong echoes of other books like Memoirs of a Geisha. And had we had a better reason to listen to her story, I think I would have been a lot more interested in things since she does have a rather interesting story.

Wolram is the main annoyance here and even when we turn to his life I think I'm too deep into my dislike for him to want to invest any emotion into liking him as well. Maybe if we had been given more of his good side earlier in the book it would have given us a bit more to go on. As it stands you start the book with little reason to like him and that's hardly enough emotional currency to carry you through the entire book.

The end was...a tad weird for me, at least given the premise that they are all supposed to be dead in some other realm. It twists slightly into a love story at the end but it doesn't make sense to me why this was the case. And I really don't get the reason why their little love drama resolves the way it does. Why did these two come together? Why did Wolram bother to listen to her story at all? What did these two characters possibly have to learn from one another? These are questions that may never be answered in this book alone.

So looking at 100 Years of Vicissitude as a standalone novel and not a sequel, it does not stand very well on its own two feet. The book does have an interesting core story to tell, but the manner in which this story is presented is a little hard to stomach. Thus I can only give the book 2 repeated sequences of a napalm strike about to happen out of a possible 5.

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