Heinemann, £12.99, 304pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Who is Mr Satoshi?, By Jonathan Lee
Friday 13 August 2010
Robert "Foss" Fossick is a middle-aged photographer, the classic, grizzled, down-at-heel anti-hero who draws the curtains to choke on life's ennui. He rejects any distractions from friends who could suture his psychological wounds. Instead, he chooses to numb his pain through prescription drugs and apathetic moping.
His mother's death compounds his misery but sets the narrative wheels into motion. Her will mentions the elusive Mr Satoshi, her childhood sweetheart, now living in Japan. Foss is asked to deliver some correspondence to him, so, cajoled into action upon the promise of freelance work, and led by a mild curiosity beyond his own problems, his journey leads him to the Far East. There, he uncovers the mystery of his mother's missive. Subconsciously, he also learns to love again.
This debut from Jonathan Lee, who conceived the novel while posted with his City law firm in one of its Japanese offices, is confident, sharply-written, and refreshingly direct. Its story melds ancestral letters, diplomatic reports and Foss's inner conflict.
Japan is rendered in a "blur of neon, vast television screens pointing down, full of global dots" where one can see "reflections multiplied and merged on a labyrinth of cubes and cones and pyramids" on the horizon. Tokyo is, of course, a descriptive writer's dream and Lee is not cowed by that culture's omnipresent and exhaustive literary heritage; he instead revels in his character's conflicts.
Undoubtedly, the author's one-time alienation in Japan lent this an authentic bent. A frustrated photographer's eye is also a convenient and clever way of framing streets bleached into homogeneity by neon. The relationship between Foss and the student Chiyoko is a personal highlight. She is an appealing, likeable distraction as Foss stumbles into dead ends and twists through skeins of plot.
Their dialogue is playful and well-observed, moving from flirtation to mistrust, exasperation, and ending up with something deeper. A small criticism might be that sometimes Lee's phraseology is plastered on in several layers. But such evocation is never obstructive. For the most part, it emphasises Foss's detached state of mind.
More experienced authors might milk drug-addled protagonists for all they're worth; Lee's subtlety in this regard speaks volumes of the appeal, depth and maturity of his central character, as well as his writing.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 2 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 3 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 4 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 5 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?
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Loose Women poll asking if rape is 'ever a woman's fault' sparks backlash
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
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
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up