The perfect world of Miwako Sumida | Clarissa Goenawan

There was so much that irritated me about this book that I don’t know where to start. Looking at the reviews, I now also feel irritated that so few people found it irritating. Yes I am a bit irritable at the moment how did you guess. Before I start on how irritating it was, just a quick precap. Miwako Sumida has hanged herself (not a spoiler). The why-dunnit, such as it is, is narrated in three sections: through her would-be boyfriend Ryusei, her best friend Chie, and her employer Fumi-nee respectively.

So a young woman dies, her friends need to make sense of her death, and so try to discover her dark secrets. So the story is Twin Peaks really. A rainbow-flagged Murakami-flavoured remix of Twin Peaks in fact, which should therefore have been absolutely amazing. Compared to Laura Palmer’s dark secrets, Miwako Sumida’s are more of a pale beige. So don’t get excited about any big reveals.  

The book’s themes and tropes are so Murakami-esque I was embarrassed for the author: disappearance of troubled woman, weird sexual fantasies, odd health institutions in the middle of nowhere, ominous forest, unrequited love, realising you never really knew someone until it’s too late. There’s even a missing cat ffs. OK, no wells, jazz, spaghetti recipes or laundry, but you get the idea.

It would take too long to list all the things that irritated me so here are some of the main ones. None huge in themselves, I admit, but they mounted up to a big cumulative irk.

If you’re going to tell the same story from three different perspectives, a) it needs to be a good story, and b) each retelling needs to present things differently and/or develop the narrative or characters or something. But it wasn’t, and it didn’t.

If two of the three main characters in those narratives – Ryushi and Chie – are utterly devoid of personality, then the central character, although dead, had better be interesting. Oh wait. She’s deeply dull too, and even her spite and supposedly dark secrets fail to spark any engagement. But somehow we’re meant to believe that she’s fascinatingly complex and a joy to all who knew her. Well show, don’t tell, I say.     

If you’re going to include a MTF trans character you don’t have to refer to their gender identity and uber-femininity every single bloody time they’re mentioned. It was pre-signalled loud and clear that There’s Something About Fumi-nee, so hardly a big surprise there. She is the only vaguely interesting character in the book, but her gender is laboured to death. It feels immature and try-hard.   

The writing is pedestrian, the dialogue wooden, the pace sluggish, the psychology superficial and incoherent. The weird sex fantasy, um… well all I’ll say is elderly laughing gnome incubus and we’ll just leave it there.

Oh, and after 20-odd chapters of plodding banality you don’t just suddenly chuck in some magic realism at the end. Annoying and silly.

Advance reader copy supplied by netgalley.