IoS book review: The Goddess Chronicle, By Natsuo Kirino (trs Rebecca Copeland)
Priestess of the night – aged five
Sunday 13 January 2013
Natsuo Kirino enters esteemed company with this, the 10th in Canongate's Myth series. Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Philip Pullman and A S Byatt are among those who have previously leant their talents to this catalogue of novels in which ancient legends are re-imagined. But although her name might not be as celebrated as those authors on these shores, Kirino is one of Japan's best-loved writers of crime fiction. And those British readers who do know Kirino for Out, Grotesque or Real World – her three brutal, haunting thrillers available in translation – will discover this to be quite the change of pace.
The Goddess Chronicle retells the legend of Izanami and Izanagi – divine beings who created much of the world before a dramatic falling out – in the voice of a young girl, Namima. The five-year-old lives on a tiny island, Umihebi, at the south-easternmost point of an archipelago; her sister, Kamikuu, is destined to become Umihebi's "oracle", a priestess whose work is central to the well-being of the island's inhabitants. And, as part of the yin-and-yang dichotomy that governs the people, Namima, as Kamikuu's younger sister, is forced to become the isle's priestess of the night: an outcast who must live among the recently deceased to ensure their spirits pass on.
The narrative draws parallels between the defilement, ostracism and revenge of Namima and those of the female goddess Izanami, illuminating the myth's key dichotomies of life and death, love and hate, gods and mankind, and men and women.
Yet there is a dichotomy in Kirino's telling, too. The central narrative is lyrical, with an impelling storyline that demands attention – not to mention one of the finest, and least expected, first lines of a chapter I have ever read. But at the same time, there is a second strand which seems weighed down by the author's reverence for the source material; an almost biblical retelling of the intricacies of the legend that slows the story unnecessarily. There is a tendency, too, towards a nagging repetition of acts already unfurled, as if Kirino expects us to forget, in the space of a chapter, what has already occurred.
But it would be wrong to end on a negative note, for in the main this is a compelling tale, with foundations in an allegory-rich fable that more than deserves its rejuvenation.
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
Star Wars: New action dolls launched on Force Friday ahead of The Force Awakens release
Ricki And The Flash, film review: Meryl Streep's rock'n'roll creation steals the show
Joan Aiken: Today's Google Doodle celebrates life of British fantasy novelist
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees