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Book DetailsISBN: 9781922182340
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Book Review: Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw - Reviewed by CloggieA (27 Aug 2014)
“Even at this early hour, traffic is jigsawed to a stop. Battered trucks, hand carts, buses, clog the interstitial spaces. Schools of ancient bicycles swim through the narrow fissures. All around them, a swirling tide of men ebbs and flows, shouldering their wares, heads bent. Near and far, horns bark, men shout. High-pitched whistles shred the air. The bus floats on a shallow sea of dust and diesel fumes.” The Snow Kimono is the fourth novel by Australian author, Mark Henshaw and the second written under his own name. The narration begins in Paris, 1989, with ex-Inspector of Police, Auguste Jovert discovering he has an adult daughter in Algiers and, shortly thereafter, meeting former Professor of Law at the Imperial University of Japan, Tadashi Omura. At Omura’s insistence, they dine together and Omura begins to talk about his life, telling Jovert “In Japan, we have a saying: If you want to see your life, you have to see it through the eyes of another.” Before long, it becomes apparent that this is really the tale of Omura’s friend, successful novelist Katsuo Ikeda. The man Omura describes seems to be a charismatic parasite who uses his observations of people to further his career. ”Look at people, Tadashi. Just watch them. If you want power over people, you have to get inside them, find out what they are afraid of. Be them. It’s the only way.” Omura begins with the intriguing fact of young Fumiko, the girl who is not his daughter, and launches into the long explanation of why he was bringing her up. Jovert’s own unrelated history is occasionally shared. With Omura’s narrative, Henshaw achieves a definite Oriental quality. His characters are interesting and his descriptive prose is marvellously evocative: “Her laugh as sharp as darting swallows…” and “The events of the day jostle in her head. They settle for a moment. Then, like a flock of birds at dusk, they take to the air, whirling round and round in the sky above her” and “The streetlamps were lit. Rain still fell in a thin mist. The roads shone. To anybody else it would have been obvious – accidents hovered like hawks in the air” and “Behind me, the mountain peaks blaze like white teeth in the first rays of the sun. Darkness seeps back into the earth. The grey-tiled rooftops of the village, clustered together like sleeping cattle, begin to surface” are but a few examples. Whether it is the muddy, rainy mountainside in Japan or the dusty, noisy street in Algiers, Henshaw renders the atmosphere with consummate ease. Omura’s description of the traditional Japanese jigsaw puzzle - “Some pieces are small, others large, but all are calculated to deceive, to lead one astray, in order to make the puzzle as difficult, as challenging, as possible. In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world” - could also apply to the novel Henshaw has written. He has crafted his tale with deliberate care and the reader who is patient enough to persist with the slow reveal (and the lack of quotation marks for dialogue) is amply rewarded by both the plot turns and the beautiful prose. This is a novel of passion and obsession, of lies and deception, of adultery and betrayal of trust, of murder and assumed identity. A superb read.
Mark Henshaw has lived in France, Germany, Yugoslavia and the USA. He currently lives in Canberra. His first novel, Out of the Line of Fire (1988), won the FAW Barbara Ramsden Award and the NBC New Writers Award. It was one of the biggest selling Australian literary novels of the decade and has been re-released as a Text Classic. The Snow Kimono won the 2014 NSW Premier's Award for Fiction and Mark Henshaw was the 2015 winner of the Copyright Agency's Author Fellowship.
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