(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer APR 20, 2003)Runa, a Japanese schoolteacher who teaches English, has been having an affair with her sixteen-year-old student. She has been sent a picture of them, taken as they were leaving a love hotel, enclosed with a death threat. She knows she's about to be exposed, and so she visits her pregnant sister, steals her passport, and runs away...she plans to go to China, where her oldest friend, Ping, supposedly lives.
Ralph is the other main character. Years ago he was married to a bride he found in Thailand, a girl named Apple. She seemed like everything he'd ever wanted, sweet, modest...until he got her home. She disappeared and he divorced her, and now, in Japan, he hopes to find himself a new bride. Unfortunately, the eastern blossoms he encounters do not live up to his dreams...until a ferry boat ride to China, where he meets Runa, now calling herself Nanao, pretending, ironically, that her English isn't so good.
In some ways, this book is very eerie, because we pretty much know from the beginning that Ralph had something to do with his first wife's disappearance, for he sometimes mentions Apple's ghost haunting him, or that he hopes that some occurrence meant Apple had forgiven him. There's also a creepiness to him...sometimes he feels very pathetic, sometimes he feels slightly slimy. He never feels like someone you can understand, or emphasize with.
This lack of sympathy is true for Runa, as well. Who wants to identify with a woman who would sleep with one of her students, not because she's in love with him, but because she's so bored that the excitement of fooling around with him and not being caught is too much temptation? She has a miasma of apathy around her, a feeling of not really caring, that, strangely, makes her harder to understand than the illegal relationship she's had.
This book gives a very different look at Japan. I'd never heard of love hotels, and the look at the marriage trade there is intriguing. One thing that I thought sad was that women go to these places and are rated and put on lists..."A list" being the best, most desirable women, "c" being women who are past their prime a bit...this hums of desperation that is much more touching than anything the two main characters do. The imagery is well done. There are times, for , where the descriptions of the heat made me almost perspire in sympathy, and some of the aspects of general life are clean and enlightening. I have to say it was interesting looking at Japan through such different sets of eyes...Runa and Ralph have very different perspectives, making even similar sites seem so different.
To me, the definition of a mystery is this: something, generally a crime, happens. A person is asked/hired/effected by the crime and so looks into things. Clues are found. Things unfold. The mystery is solved. If you follow this definition to the letter, this makes this book not much of a mystery, but more of a literary experiment. So I considered it closer...because writers need to experiment, they need to stretch things. What I realized is that Jones makes us, the reader, essentially the one who is hired to look into things. Both of our characters have committed a crime...the reader follows the clues, unfolds the mystery, and sees, in the end, not only the resolution as we discover exactly what, if anything, Ralph had to do with Apple's death, but we need to decide if, in the end, justice of any sort has been served.
- Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Water Lily at MostlyFiction.com
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
(back to top)
- TW Bookmark page on The Earthquake Bird with chapter excerpt
- Sunday Times review of The Earthquake Bird
- Times Online review of Water Lily
- Victims Say Japan Ignores Crimes Committed by Teachers
(back to top)
About the Author:
Susanna Jones grew up in Yorkshire. Her interest in Japan began when she was at London University where, as part of her drama degree, she studied Japanese Noh theatre. This interest took her to Japan where she lived and worked for years. She received a M.A. in writing at Manchester University. She currently resides in Brighton, where she continues to study Japanese and is working on a new novel.