My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of my favorite narrative structures is one that combines a past (through letters or journals) and a present story. And that is the basic structure of this novel. Ruth in the Pacific Northwest on a remote island finds a packet containing a journal and other objects washed up on shore, possibly from the earthquake and tsunami a couple years before, . The chapters alternate between Ruth, the finder and Nao, the writer. At first I wondered why Nao would have written a journal in English–it became clear when she revealed that she had spent her early life in California.
The pacing is interesting. Instead of racing through the journal, Ruth paces herself slowly to reflect the pace it was written. In addition there is a French journal and some letters in old Japanese–these do not get translated immediately, but add essential information when they do.
The characters are well drawn, sometimes interesting, sometimes ordinary. Sometimes likable sometimes less so–but as more is revealed, the major characters become more likable. The minor ones, the school contemporaries, not so much. At one point in the middle I found myself wondering about Ruth’s chapters. Would her story be worth a novel without having found the journal? What were the parallels that were going to pull the two narratives together? I may reread it and focus more on Ruth, though the natural focus is Nao.
Science, philosophy and religion were woven into the novel, generally not too heavily, though heavier at the end. The novel is a kind of exploration of time, of existences, of influence. How seriously are we to take the question of who is creating whom? I was intrigued by the moments of magical realism, though I have not yet decided if they were integral or an easy solutions to narrative problems. (view spoiler) And did I learn about Buddhism or New Age cooptations of Buddhism? I will ponder these when I reread also.