Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Wednesday, October 05, 2016 12:30 am by M. in    No comments

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country
by Mick Jackson
Faber & Faber
ISBN-13: 978-0571254255

Synopsis

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death. Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother's death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontës and her own sister's wrath.
Yuki Chan in Brontë Country is a weird book. Occasionally moving, sparsely enlightening and mostly baffling. It's not exactly a problem of tone, which in a sense is coherent with the half naïf, half surrealist way of perceiving reality of the main protagonist, Yuki. The problem, if it is a problem, is the absence of a clear compass helping the reader to navigate the seemingly unconnected narrative situations of the novel. It's true that some of them tie themselves at the end but many more are still drifting in the reader's memory, floating nicely in the same tone of Yuki's narrative but with no possibility of closure.

First, a word of caution. The Brontë Country in the title is merely anecdotic. Yuki Chan could be in Stratford-upon-Avon, Hardy country or Harry Potter's Hogwarts and nothing remarkable would have to be changed in Yuki's mission or in Mick Jackson's way of putting it into words. It's nice for Brontëites to recognise some of the featured location although that is more a merit of the Brontë reader than of the novel which is not interested in creating much of an atmosphere by description in words but by osmosis with its silly (not in any pejorative sense) dreamy narrative flair. Therefore the KWVR, the Parsonage, the Main Street, the Brontë Bridge and Top Withins are more or less visualised and some elements of Brontë lore are mentioned. Fortunately, Mick Jackson does not try to impress his readers with how much research he has done and filters the Brontë trivia through the eyes of a Japanese tourist with no previous knowledge of the Brontës. The possible 'mistakes' or 'omissions' are mistakes and omissions by Yuki and are entirely believable.

We will not discuss here all the different elements of the narrative that are better or worse articulated in our opinion. We will just mention a couple of examples of each. The snow, in all its forms is a good example of an element explored metaphorically as connected with the death of the mother and the final confrontation between Yuki and her personal demons in an snowy moor landscape. By the way: do not attempt to repeat the night excursion to the Haworth moors under the snow, it's highly likely you will no return as alive as Yuki. On the hand we found the character of Denny, the local girl whose only purpose on the narrative it seems to be to appear out of the blue to help Yuki and the reader to understand the purpose of her voyage to Haworth through their conversations. Denny's narrative arc is unsatisfying to say the least. It's a pity because it is a likable character and she is also in one of the creepiest scenes on the novel with a sort of Japanese ouija in the most authentic J-Horror tradition.

With all its faults, Yuki Chan in Brontë Country achieves something quite remarkable. Yuki's need to understand and more than that, to really know and feel what happened with her mother is something that everybody who has experienced a traumatic loss can relate to. Her diffuse pain and her anxiety for finding an (non-existent) meaning, an (impossible) revelation which gives sense to what happened is something the reader can connect to and be moved by. In its best moments the novel attains just that. No small achievement, indeed.

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