A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

A man named Hideo Wantanabe appears on the doorstep of Amaterasu Takahashi in Pennsylvania claiming to be her grandson. But he can’t be as Amaterasu’s daughter and grandson perished in the atomic bomb which was dropped on Nagasaki on the 9th August, 1945.

No, I am not haunted by how she died but why. If I am to be the only remaining teller of this tale, what and how much can I admit to myself and to others? Should I begin with this acknowledgement: my daughter might still be here today if it had not been for me.

Amaterasu goes on to tell a tale of forbidden love between her teenager daughter and Sato, a doctor friend of her husband. Many secrets about the past, including Amaterasu’s childhood and life before she married her husband, Kenzo, are revealed.

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A couple of weeks ago, I said there’s usually one book on the Bailey’s Prize list I really dislike. This year I’m afraid there’s two. I found the scenario implausible and the writing oddly stilted. I had an issue with the whole novel stemming from the mother’s guilt and shame; why do women always have to feel guilty?

The structure was also a problem: every chapter began with an extract from An English Dictionary of Japanese Culture which was purely for a Western audience with no knowledge of Japanese culture and meant that the reader was jerked out of the story at the beginning of every chapter. As the chapters are only short, this exacerbated the problem. The story was told from Amaterasu’s point-of-view but as there were many things she couldn’t know diary entries from her daughter, Yuko, and letters from her daughter’s lover/Kenzo’s friend, Sato, were built into the narrative. However, the diary and the letters never stood alone, they were sandwiched between narrative from Amaterasu in which she continued to describe events she could only have known about second-hand. Again this had the effect of taking me out of the story – I never forgot that I was being told a tale someone had made up. Disappointing.

 

Thanks to Hutchinson Books for the review copy.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.