Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

This volume of Book Girl does not introduce a new situation of tragic consequences that resonate with our hero’s own past and causes him to grow and change a little more. We’re done with that. Instead, we tie the previous four books together and bring things full circle, as Konoha must confront his past head on, deal with the return of his objectified girl, and realize that despite all the growth he’s made in this last year, he still has quite a ways to go.

These books are all told from Konoha’s point of view, and thus sometimes things can happen around him that he is unaware of. This is especially true of this volume, but Nomura-san is very skilled at letting the reader in on things that Konoha either doesn’t know or is deliberately deluding himself about. Those who have been frustrated by Konoha’s attitude in the past are not going to find this book any easier to delve into. Indeed, as a reader I found myself identifying more with Akutagawa, who is clearly sympathetic to Konoha, but also can’t stand what he’s doing to Kotobuki (and himself). There’s a wonderful scene where Akutagawa lays everything out for Konoha to see, with an expression on his face that says “you aren’t going to believe this or care but I am doing it anyway, dammit.” When his frustration boils over into violence, it’s very cathartic.

Speaking of Kotobuki, I think I’m finally coming to like her. It’s taken a while – she was very stereotypical to start with – but as she’s opened up we’ve seen more of her inner turmoil, and here we see her risking everything in order to protect Konoha. It’s inspiring, but also rather sad, as I think by the end of the book, despite what he may say, he’s no closer to Kotobuki than he was when the book began.

And then there’s Takeda. I’d mentioned in my review of the third volume that it was rather refreshing seeing how in this series, people’s issues aren’t magically fixed by page 235. And indeed, we see that sometimes they aren’t fixed at all. Takeda still puts on a mask of happiness to hide her confusion and sorrow, and now has even taken to self-harm. It’s quite interesting how she actually takes up with Ryuto, a boy who seems to delight in girls with issues, so to speak. Even by the end of the book, after another cathartic moment, we’re not sure if she’ll be OK.

And then there’s Miu. I was predisposed to liking her because of my nature (I find myself drawn to and supporting unlikeable characters), and felt that I was correct when I read the scene with a young Miu meeting Konoha, and telling him a story. Konoha’s narration of it is beautiful, and you believe that it shows you the real Asakura beneath all the anger, hatred and manipulation we’ve seen. And then, later on, that beautiful scene is thrown back at us, as we get it from Miu’s point of view and see the horrible pedestal Konoha has placed her on, leading to writer’s block and her desperate cribbing of stories from other sources. I’m not sure it makes up for everything she’s done, but at least I look forward to seeing if she can finally move on and begin to heal.

I haven’t talked all that much about the book as a book, but that’s mostly as I’m so drawn into the character’s lives. It’s a good book. Frustrating at times, but that’s the frustration of a reader towards the characters doing dumb things, not the author. I do wish we’d had more of Maki – she’s the only supporting character whose story didn’t tie into the others, and her presence at the end seems to be nothing more than ‘I need the whole cast here’ – but she apparently features heavily in Book 6, so I’ll let it go. I also haven’t mentioned Tohko, the titular Book Girl, but that’s because Tohko’s story is still so diffuse. Yes, she’s studying to get into university – barely – but she’s the one who helps others, the detective who puts everything together. We haven’t had her own story yet – clearly that will be Books 7 and 8, the finale. For now, all we get are suggestions and small tastes.

Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As I noted in my previous review of Book Girl, the plots and mysteries in these novels all seem to take the same turns. So rather than focus on how Konoha finds once again how his life mirrors that of the guest star this week, I have some thoughts that occurred to me as I read it, which will contain spoilers for both this book and the previous three.

First of all, as the author notes in her afterword, the cliffhanger from Book Three is not touched on here at all, except for the fact that Konoha reveals that yes, he did actually know about it and this is not a “secret” being kept from him. The reasoning for this is because Nomura-san felt that if she moved on to the ‘finale’ right now, it would do Nanase a disservice. Which is true, I suppose, except that for a book that is meant to be her focus book, Nanase gets startlingly little to do here. I’ve had issues with her in the past three books – I felt she was the flattest of the characters, and looked forward to seeing what happened with her here – but so much of the action in this book revolves around her being a touchstone to the other characters, an ideal, rather than interacting with her as a person.

That said, her scene with Konoha in the abandoned house of Mito’s family is brilliant, and a good thing too, as it’s likely to be the last decent interaction she’ll get with Konoha. Nanase may be a tsundere, but she’s never been able to repress her emotions at all. Whereas Konoha is *all* repressed emotions – except they keep slipping out of him with every panic attack he has. Their confessions and commiserations are done over cell phones, even though they’re sitting next to each other – which is both heartwarming and also quite sad. And then, finally, Nanase confesses. And Konoha, neither as the narrator nor in dialogue, ever acknowledges that she has for the rest of the novel. Not even when people confront him on it point-blank, or refer to it obliquely. Indeed, his narration can be quite aggravating as he tries to think of things to do to cheer Nanase up – you can hear your teeth grind as you read it.

For all that Konoha has been supposedly growing with each novel, he still shows signs here of being nowhere close to a functional human being. Which is absolutely fine. I mean, Konoha essentially has post-traumatic stress disorder, among other problems. As he learned in the previous Book Girl, these aren’t the sorts of things that can be resolved in a nice, pat 30-minute TV show. His joy at talking with Mariya-san earlier is based around the fact that he constantly seeks others that he can emulate, and thinks that the quiet, chai-loving joys of this music teacher give him hope. Of course, this is then stomped to bits over the rest of the book. Honestly, the real ways that Konoha grows in this book is in relation to his writing. Slowly he is coming to realize the joy that reading Miu Inoue has given to others, and that it’s not just because they’re shallow or are seeking escape in a happy fantasy world. He is accepting his own work, which will (we hope) eventually lead him to accept his own self.

Tohko, of course, is the primary reason this is happening at all. Despite having a vague harem-atmosphere in the broadest sense, the meat of this series has absolutely nothing to do with “who will Konoha end up with?” Which is good, as it’s unlikely to be Tohko, the titular Book Girl. She’s absent from a lot of the investigation for once, as she’s preparing for college exams. Of course, she blows off her practice exams in order to solve the mystery. She’s fulfilling several functions in Konoha’s life, but perhaps the most important is keeping him writing – even if he refuses to admit that what he writes for Tohko is the same thing as what he wrote as Miu Inoue. His writing is a gift, a real talent, and by Tohko not allowing that to die, even under a purportedly selfish guise of “wanting snacks”, she can help to heal his heart. Tohko is not really a love interest here – more of a muse, with a bit of therapist thrown in.

The book examined here, by the way, is The Phantom of the Opera, as stated on the back cover. With a bit of Dumas’s Camille thrown in. It’s a book that has most people nowadays thinking of the adaptations instead, as Tohko acknowledges, but it also prepares us for a lot of high emotion. Konoha’s fits and panic attacks seem even higher-strung than the prior books, and the denouement of the mystery consists of a lot of people screaming at each other. There’s a lot of sordid things happening here, as with previous Book Girl novels. Enjo Kosai, or “compensated dating”, comes up as a main plot point, and it’s not glamorized at all – it’s sordid and disempowering. The actual finale of the book, on the other hand, is quite quiet and beautiful – and leaves a little bit of hope, which is all you ask for a series like this.

As I said, the cliffhanger from Book Three is not resolved here, but Miu Asakura, the girl from Konoha’s past, does pop up here and there in Nanase’s backstory and narration – and doesn’t sound at all pleasant. Well, we couldn’t expect all happy smiles and forgiveness, now could we? Even though we don’t meet her here, she is enough of a force that Nanase’s final statement manages to be a cliffhanger on its own. After being faked out last time, I’m not sure if Book Five will resolve it either – there are eight books in the series, after all. But certainly I want to read more, and July, which sees Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation (these titles always sound so sad) seems very far away. Recommended.

Book Girl and the Captive Fool

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

By now I’ve grown somewhat used to how a Book Girl novel will feel. It will be based around a book of some sort (in this case, Saneatsu Mushanokoji’s 1919 novel Friendship) and the mystery plot will parallel the book in some way. It will flesh out the backstory of one of the minor characters we’ve met in the previous books. There will be dark, emotional themes that will connect with Konoha’s own thoughts and emotions. And in the end, Konoha will have grown a little bit more and moved on a bit from the girl in his past he can’t let go of.

But in general, the plot and mystery is not why anyone reads Book Girl. There were a few mystery aspects in this book, but I guessed at the most important one straight away, so they didn’t matter as much. However, it’s the characterization, style and prose that keep you coming back here, and in that respect Captive Fool is a worthy successor to the first two books.

This volume focuses on Konoha’s stoic and calm friend Akutagawa, and the discovery that much of his personality is a mask he puts on to conceal his past tragedies – both from others and from himself. Of course, this sounds a lot like what Konoha is doing now, and the irony is not lost on him. What’s more, the girl who was the focus of the first novel, Takeda, shows Konoha that being ‘cured’ of crushing emotional despair is not something that can happen over the course of a few weeks.

Much of the impetus of this book revolves around being unable to move on from a past tragedy, to the point where self-doubt and pressure make it impossible for you to do anything. Again, these novels are written for 15-17 year old readers, and I think these emotions would resonate well with them. How do you talk with someone after “ruining their life”? What if you make the exact same mistakes? What if one kind action turns out to be absolutely the wrong thing to do?

The author also manages to convey this to Konoha, the one who really needs to hear these words, in a way that doesn’t sound like everyone is acting as his therapist. The book Friendship mentioned above is being performed by the Book Club (and their assorted hangers-on) as a play, and so we see similar doubts and feelings play themselves out on three levels – elementary school (Akutagawa’s past), high school (Konoha’s present), and adulthood (the events of the novel/play). Growing up doesn’t always solve the problem.

Then there’s the ending to the book. I had discussed this with another reader, and it was felt that the revelation (which was a bit of a surprise, but not the complete shocker it was meant to be) was somewhat underwhelming, especially given that we’re only 3 volumes into what promises to be an 8-book “main story”. It seems a bit early for this particular plot gun to be fired off, in my opinion. But if nothing else, t shows us that when you are somebody’s mirror, you take on the same qualities as the person you are mirroring. Even if it’s unintentional.

Again, what I love most about this series is how much it makes me think about human nature. We see the growth of the characters, and even though it’s through artificial “what’s the mysterious tragic past of the novel?” means, that doesn’t make it less valid. And yeah, given the arc, I suspect the next book will focus on whatever demons Kotobuki has. But the writing and characters really make me want to find out what happens next. A great page turner, highly recommended.