This novel requires concentration. It’s a rewarding read, but I found it a challenging one.
‘There are times in your life when something happens after which you’re never the same. It may be something direct or indirect, or something someone says to you. But whatever it is, there is no going back. And inevitably, when it happens, it happens suddenly, without warning.’
‘The Snow Kimono’ is mainly set in Paris and Japan, between the late 1950s and late 1980s. There are three main characters: the retired police Inspector Jouvert (a Frenchman), and two Japanese men a former Professor of Law, Tadashi Omura, and his schoolfriend, the writer Katsuo Ikeda. The two main storytellers are Jovert and Omura, and the story moves backwards and forwards in time as it passes between them.
The story begins in 1989, when Jovert receives a letter from a stranger, a woman claiming to be his daughter from a relationship he had in Algeria thirty years earlier. Shortly after receiving this letter, Jovert is approached by Tadashi Omura who has his own story to tell.
‘And we lapsed into silence, falling back into our own separate worlds, hers with its unknown future, and mine with its inescapable past.’
I found I had to pay careful attention when reading this novel. Nothing is obscure or irrelevant, but not all connections are easily made. Truth is not fixed, interpretations often seem to suit a particular selfish purpose. The role of Katsuo Ikeda is central, even though the man himself seems to be at the periphery of the story. He’s in gaol, we learn, quite early in the novel. Why won’t become apparent until much later. Jovert is looking for truth, but life (unlike crime) cannot be solved.
‘He’d been looking in the wrong direction. The retrospective piece had fallen into place.’
And for the pieces do fall into place, memory has to be questioned. Memory is not fixed and immutable, as Jovert may have once believed. And once Jovert realises this, there are possibilities to be considered.
It took me a while to get into this novel, a while to appreciate the interconnectedness of the pieces of the puzzle, a while to accept the evolution of memory. There’s a lot to admire about this novel, about the way Mr Henshaw constructs the various elements of the story and then pulls it all together.