Jump to content

Recommended Posts

editorslit_ataleforthetimebeing_s.jpg

A Tale for the Time Being is a very strange novel. Broadly, a lonely and isolated writer of Japanese heritage called Ruth (who could that be?) finds a diary washed up on the beach, wrapped up with a watch and some other papers in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, on the beach in British Colombia. In equal measures, Ruth reads the diary (written in first person by a Japanese 15 year old called Nao) and has her own story told in third person narration. The story veers constantly between the very mundane of at school, poverty, loneliness through to questions of purpose, existence, suicide and time. At its core is the Buddhist idea of the butterfly flapping its wings – everything causes ripples and the ripples change history. There are multiple possible futures and, if so, there are multiple possible pasts. Until a future or a past is known, it can be anything.

Ruth Ozeki plays mindgames with the reader constantly in this dense novel; but the reader only really catches on half way through. It is quirky and eccentric; also fairly difficult to get to grips with. This is not helped by digressions in Japanese and French that are footnoted.

In amongst the philosophy, there are some excellent depictions of loneliness on the edge of civilisation in Canada, and social isolation for those who do not have career success in Japan. There are culture clashes as east meets west but Ozeki drives home a pretty forceful message that the west is not the best.

The two narratives interweave in ever less probably ways and the ending, when it comes – and it takes its time doing so – feels unusually satisfying for a text that has got so weird. I suppose that is because the weirdness is grounded in such everyday situations.

The characterisation, especially in the Japanese sections, is deep and convincing. Information is fed to the reader to allow the situation to be constantly re-appraised and people to be seen in new lights. The people in Canada feel more like devices designed to allow ideas to play out – but as devices go, they are good ones.

A Tale for the Time Being is not going to be a light read. Don’t take it to the beach – not even one in British Colombia – but give it room to breathe, just stick with it if it gets weird for a bit and all will be right in the end.

Glad to see this one on the Booker longlist – hopefully it will last through to the shortlist.

*****

Edited by MisterHobgoblin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I bought this a my Mr B's Book Spa (No 5!) a couple of weeks ago, but not got to it yet. Thanks for the advice to stick with it, I'll let you know how I get on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting book it seems to be. Though I usually stay away from prize nominees as my high expectations spoil the fun, but do think, will give it a try.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just sampled a little of this on Audible, narrated by the author. On first listening it has a slight feeling of Wind Up Chronicle Bird, I'm tempted to make it my next audiobook.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting book it seems to be. Though I usually stay away from prize nominees as my high expectations spoil the fun, but do think, will give it a try.

 

I bought my copy before it was a prize nominee so, for me at least, the premise is intriguing in its own right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's great Misterhobgoblin each book should be read with just one bias i.e. love for reading.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ruth Ozeki talking about some of her life and background to writing A Tale For the Time Being here

 

Not sure where to post this, so mods please move if necessary

Thank you for the link grasshopper. I'm really enjoying Ruth Ozeki's narration of A Tale for the Time Being, she brings it alive right from the start. I've been listening either on the train or in the car and I'm not at all happy when the end of my journey approaches!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the link grasshopper. I'm really enjoying Ruth Ozeki's narration of A Tale for the Time Being, she brings it alive right from the start. I've been listening either on the train or in the car and I'm not at all happy when the end of my journey approaches!!

 

I'm so pleased you liked the  link, Cassie, and that the audible is good with Ruth Ozeki's narration. I thought she was such a delightful person and being a "baby Zen Buddhist priest on training wheels " really made me smile.  I  downloaded ATTB  after seeing the interview but haven't  had time to start listening yet, but certainly will soon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm so pleased you liked the  link, Cassie, and that the audible is good with Ruth Ozeki's narration. I thought she was such a delightful person and being a "baby Zen Buddhist priest on training wheels " really made me smile.  I  downloaded ATTB  after seeing the interview but haven't  had time to start listening yet, but certainly will soon.

I do hope you enjoy it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finished this last week and loved it. Interestingly Ozeki says at the end that she always reads her words out loud when she writes, I think this must contribute to how well she narrates the story. Authors, particularly poets can sometimes be totally the wrong people to narrate their own work but she is really good, it was a pleasure to listen. I wanted to start over again but my iPod was being stubborn and kept starting in the middle and I didn't have time to sort it out. Instead I noticed I still had Kafka on the Shore stored, so I started listening  again. Amazingly how many 'time beings' there are in the first chapter and of course the boy named crow! I'm assuming she is a Murakami fan.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A Tale for the Time Being is not going to be a light read. Don’t take it to the beach – not even one in British Colombia – but give it room to breathe, just stick with it if it gets weird for a bit and all will be right in the end.

 

Glad to see this one on the Booker longlist – hopefully it will last through to the shortlist.

 

*****

 

Thank you for the review Mr HG, it was most helpful when reading A Tale for the Time Being which has so many different aspects and as you warned not a light or quick read.  I returned to re-read what you had written several times and the reassurance was appreciated. It was funny and gentle at times, sad and moving at others and harshly informative as well.  It is one of those books that is likely to "stay with you" for a while, but was completely absorbing and I am very glad to have read it.  I agree with Cassie that Ruth Ozeki was a very good narrator and it seemed as though the actual characters themselves were speaking. Superpower pronounced "sooopapowah" was a lovely touch which lightened up some corners. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Superpower pronounced "sooopapowah" was a lovely touch which lightened up some corners. :)

Thanks for that reminder, that always made me smile too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, Ting, that is interesting and I am glad that someone is at least tracking and may be able to forecast ongoing movement. Unfortunately there are numerous other rubbish gyres, mainly composed of plastic, as I understand it and no one knows how to deal with them. Well meaning attempts to try and clear them have resulted in the now dry and brittle plastics flaking into unmanageable powder and just falling back into the ocean.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Ting! Do you know if what you see in the animation relate to the timeline in the book, I can't remember the details now?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Ting! Do you know if what you see in the animation relate to the timeline in the book, I can't remember the details now?

Hi Cassie. Yes,characters in the Canadian setting refer to the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster. The debris looks to have reached the west coast of Canada before the end of 2011, so the timeline seems to fit. I'm only just halfway through this incredible novel and for the 'time being' am loving every minute of it. I agree with one of your previous posts, about it so easy to read. For a writer to read aloud makes all the difference.

 

Unfortunately there are numerous other rubbish gyres, mainly composed of plastic, as I understand it and no one knows how to deal with them. Well meaning attempts to try and clear them have resulted in the now dry and brittle plastics flaking into unmanageable powder and just falling back into the ocean.

This is one bit of knowledge I wish I didn't have, Grasshopper.  It's a nightmare! What makes it so much worse is that however hard we try, we all contribute by having to buy goods made of and/or packaged in plastic. And I live in a country where recycling is not an option!

Edited by Ting Mikyunyu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Cassie. Yes,characters in the Canadian setting refer to the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster. The debris looks to have reached the west coast of Canada before the end of 2011, so the timeline seems to fit. I'm only just halfway through this incredible novel and for the 'time being' am loving every minute of it. I agree with one of your previous posts, about it so easy to read. For a writer to read aloud makes all the difference.

Thanks for that Ting, I knew it was put forward but one of the characters, I think the husband/partner didn't seem to think it possible? The animation is very positive in that respect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just need to continue posting here because the novel is really affecting me. For the past few nights I have been having very vivid dreams. I am aware that I am dreaming, and that the dreams are urging me to understand about Time. They present me with  different scenarios to help me towards my understanding. A bit scary, but wonderful to try and catch when I wake up. (Maybe I should buy a dream catcher. Hmmm) As for the novel itself, I suspect that there is something significant that I am moving towards - but I haven't got a clue what it could be. So, for the Time Being, I live in suspense.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for that Ting, I knew it was put forward but one of the characters, I think the husband/partner didn't seem to think it possible? The animation is very positive in that respect.

Hi Cassie. Now we're really up to date. Check this out!

http://earthsky.org/earth/fukushima-radiation-reaches-canadian-waters

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is beautifully written! 

ETA:

And as there have been no more posts since, I thought I would just pick up with this one and say that I have now finished this novel. It was going nicely until Ruth started taking part in the story, at which point it went into orbit and I couldn't wait to finish. I found all of it very plausible, given that I totally believe in particle physics, even though I don't understand it.  All the characters were excellently crafted for their roles in the story. Nao's father was a most intriguing character - our emotions about him are about as mixed up as his own. (I'm trying not to give too much away for anyone who "comes after'). And Oliver is a very special person, too. I loved the way the animals and the environment wove in and out of the story; but some of the information could have been a bit more subtly presented, I feel.

It is a novel I think I would like to read again, more slowly now that I know how it unfolds.

Edited by Ting Mikyunyu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Similar Content

    • By MisterHobgoblin
      If you are fascinated by the bed-hopping habits of students then this is the book you have been waiting for!

      Connell and Marianne are from Carricklea, a fictional town in Sligo (not the fashionable end of Ireland). Marianne lives in the big house with her mother. At school, she is ostracised for being weird – perhaps because she is rich, perhaps because her father is dead. Perhaps because she is clever. 

      Connell is from the regular side of town. His father is also gone; his mother Lorraine works for Marianne’s mother as a cleaner. Connell is also clever, but he seems to have kept this hidden from his friends. Connell is popular and able to get dates with pretty much anyone he wants – even the most popular girl in school. 

      Connell and Marianne have a clandestine relationship that Connell tries to deny is actually a relationship, and Marianne seems to be grateful for any company she can get, regardless of the terms. 

      Each chapter moves the clock forward by a few weeks or a few months and the pair disappear off to Dublin to go to university. Dublin’s a different place altogether and Marianne’s wealth and intelligence bring ready acceptance into the beautiful people. Connell, meanwhile, is the poor bogtrotter who struggles to find his niche.

      Then, like a Russian novel, these two friends drift in and out of one another’s lives and in and out of one another’s beds. In between their brief periods of togetherness, we tick off heaps of social issues that are of great importance to undergraduates: academic pressure; prizes and scholarships; abusive older boyfriends; parties; finding the next drink…

      I suppose the theme of the novel is about social class and power imbalances. How in youth, fitting in is about reaching downwards whereas in adulthood it is about aspirations and reaching upwards. It’s like Bill Gates used to say: be nice to nerds because one day you’ll work for them. And associated with class, you have the urban/rural divide with the Dublin Jackeens ruling the roost, only admitting those from the big houses into their midst. But at the same time, there is a hollowness to this belonging. The sacrifices you have to make to your integrity as you adapt to fit in will ultimately lead to hollow feelings. 

      This is a novel that could happily have been written twenty, thirty years ago. Things don’t change. But people do – and a novel that might have seemed wonderful and insightful in my own youth now looks trivial. Student relationships were only ever interesting if you were in them. You always remember your first love, but then life happens. And life is more interesting. 
       
      ***00
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      Warlight is a story of espionage and intrigue, set in London in two distinct time spaces: the 1940s and 1959. 

      In the 1940s narrative, Nathaniel, his sister Rachel and their parents have survived the war. Surviving the peace will not be so easy. First Nathaniel’s father leaves to work in Asia, and then his mother disappears. He and Rachel are brought up in the family home by a revolving cast of strange men who seem to drift around the edges of the criminal underworld. There are shady dealings with greyhounds and furtive nocturnal sailings up and down the Thames in a mussel barge. Nathaniel is at the transition from boy to man; he works in kitchens, sows wild oats and charms the various oddballs who hang around with his guardians. Until, one evening, this strange world collapses in on itself. 

      Moving to the 1959 section, Nathaniel is older and works for one of the government security agencies. This gives him an opportunity to investigate some of the mysterious events of the 1940s. In particular, we discover what happened to Nathaniel’s mother and her relationship with the curiously named Marsh Felon, the son of a thatcher who had worked on her roof many years previously.

      For the first half, the reader is happy to go along with it all to see where it leads. Then, early in the second half, something goes awry. The point of view moves away from Nathaniel and somehow everything seems less immediate, less convincing. Nathaniel’s mother behaves inexplicably. Even when the explanation is attempted, it is inexplicable. As each character is explained in turn, the fundamental driving direction weakens more and more. It comes as no great surprise to the reader to discover that they everyone is a spook, but it is never clear how or why any of them became involved in espionage in the first place – or what they did while working as spies.

      The evocation of an atmosphere is well done if somewhat clichéd. I mean, was the whole of the 1940s foggy? Were the streets really full of spivs that would embarrass Private Walker from Dad’s Army? Did spies really behave quite so – er – mysteriously? 

      The good outweighs the bad in Warlight. The first half and more is really compelling. The frustration is that the switch from intriguing to boring is quite sudden and quite irreversible. By the very end, with a greyhound nuzzling Nathaniel’s hand, there is an overwhelming sense that section after section has been added to get the wordcount up, but without any sense of whether it was actually adding to the story – which in a story-led novel is a problem. 

      Three and a half stars rounded down.
       
      ***00
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      The literary fiction caravan comes to Neasden. Previously known only for the ashen-faced Ron Knee, Sid and Doris Bonkers and Private Eye (see p. 94); we find ourselves in a council estate following multiple points of view within a diverse community. 
       
      At first it looks as though it is going to be all about youth with Yusuf, Ardan and Selvon - but we also find other voices: Nelson, a Windrush generation man and Caroline, a refugee from the Troubles in the north of Ireland. The difficulty I had was in separating the different characters.
      The youths, in particular, were interchangeable. One was a rapper - although I tended to forget this between references to rapping; one was apparently sporty; a couple of them were the sons of the former imam. But I couldn't tell you which was which. And they didn't seem to do much more than play football and eat at the chicken shop. One of them had an interest in a girl, I think. Nelson (who spoke in patois) and Caroline (who spoke in pretty convincing Belfast vernacular) were easier to pick, but their stories seemed somehow removed in both time and place. 
       
      There seemed to be a lot of action off camera. There had been the murder of a British soldier; there were areas cordoned off by police tape, there were crowds in the distance. But it was never quite clear what was going on or whether time was linear. Caroline's story, most of which took place in and around Belfast, was quite opaque and I had to keep flicking back and forth to see whether I had missed something - invariably I hadn't. 
       
      There were some elements of the plot, such as it was, that really didn't ring true. I didn't believe the Belfast story and couldn't see what Caroline had done that would have led to her forced exile; I didn't believe in the way Claude - a radical West Indian - would have treated Nelson; and I didn't believe that someone could be radicalised just after a single conversation with a scary new imam. I certainly didn't believe in the fire. Or the epilogue, which I thought was twee to the point of undermining the supposed force of the rest of the novel.
       
      I guess the point the novel was trying to make was that every generation had its rebels and radicals; that they age and their crusades fade away; and therefore the current Islamophobia is probably a passing phenomenon that will be supplanted by something else in due course. And that's a viewpoint to which I would subscribe. I just didn't think this rather jumbled novel quite succeeded in providing new insight on the subject. 
       
      **000
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      Occasionally there is an American novel that features neither their president nor a prison. This is not one of those novels. 
       
      Romy Hall is a stripper sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for murdering one of her clients. Most of the novel offers her perspective on life in the Californian prison system. This is done with competence, although there is nothing earth-shatteringly new. There are cinder blocks, chains and bunk beds. The women do mechanical jobs, they hang around the yard, they eat slop and get on each others' nerves. They communicate with neighbours by shouting down toilets or through inconveniently set grilles in locked doors. There's the obligatory film crew, death row, butches, fems, visits, phone restrictions... 
       
      Then, occasionally, Romy shows us her past life as a stripper and a mother to Jackson. It isn't clear whether she is supposed to be a sympathetic character but she comes across as spoilt, resentful and manipulative. And there are sections that focus on Gordon Hauser, a prison educator who is naive beyond words - the only question is which woman will be his downfall and how many people will get hurt alone the way. Oh, and there are some sadistic diary excerpts [supposedly] written by Ted Kaczynski. This shifting in perspective is occasional enough to be disconcerting - it is still Romy's book. 
       
      The characters are not complex. Conan is a butch - probably intersex - always referred to by masculine pronouns. Norse is a white aryan bigot. Buttons is the same, but hispanic. Laura Lipp is a delusional over-sharer. Doc is a male former cop who is in the wrong novel. But mercifully, Romy is not some sweet innocent doing time to protect some greater good. So in this sense, the lack of complexity is probably fairly authentic. 
       
      But also authentic is the lack of excitement. Prison is apparently quite boring, which does make one wonder why so many books and films choose prisons for their setting. It is a routine and formulaic life which makes for some less than riveting narrative. It's not bad; any given section seems well written and engaging, but it just doesn't add up to anything that really hangs together. It's not clear what point Rachel Kushner was trying to make. 
       
      The Mars Room is a bit generic. As prison novels go, it is quite competent. It's not doing anyone any harm. But neither will it change your life. 
       
      ***00
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      I think it's fair to say that when Richard Powers gets an idea, he runs with it. The Overstory is a novel about trees. Every other sentence mentions a tree. The main characters each have a signature tree. And most of them converge to protect trees. The structure of the book itself is designed to resemble a tree - each character has a backstory that is a root; the stories converge in the longest section - the trunk; the characters diverge again into the crown; and then in the smallest section they produce the seeds of a future world.
       
      And my goodness the book is long and involved. Most of the eight roots stories (featuring nine characters since two of them share a root - figuratively and literally) are novellas in their own right. We have a retired war veteran; a student; an academic who works out that trees communicate; a computer games designer; an intellectual copyright lawyer; a conceptual artist; a young Chinese American; and a psychologist. It should be a job of work to remember who they all are, but they are so well delineated and re-introduced that it is seldom a problem. Occasionally a couple of the characters blur but for the most part, they are quite distinct. 
       
      And most of them play some role in defending America's ancient forest from the logging corporations. They take on the might of business, government, law enforcement agencies and a sceptical wider public. They call into question the wisdom of using non-renewable natural resources; on the one hand  it seems churlish not to use the bounties that nature provides; but on the other hand what happens when they are gone? For all the examples through history that Richard Powers calls into play, the one he doesn't reference is Easter Island - the people who cut down all their trees to lever up giant statues, offering no future source of wood to build boats. It's all well and good to assume that something else will turn up, but what if it doesn't?
       
      Where some of the stories intersect, a couple of them don't. The computer games designer and the lawyer seem to have parallel narratives that are engaging, but somehow tangential to the overall novel. And those tangential links come right at the end. It is odd, but it does offer some relief from what would otherwise be some pretty intense eco-warrior battle stories. 
       
      The stories are deeply hooking. The strength of the worlds that are created; the complexity of the characters is quite wonderful. There is an overall editorial narrative, but for the most part the eco-message is done through the characters and the story. Many books fall into the trap of telling, not showing. The Overstory shows. 
       
      For me, the full power of the novel came through by the end of the Trunk section. The pressure built and built; we reached a glorious and terrible crescendo. After that, the timelines started to stretch and it felt as though the pressure had been let off. That doesn't mean the story didn't continue to develop - it did - but some of the passion that had driven the characters in their eco-crusade had gone. At first this felt like a disappointment, an anti-climax. But a few days after finishing the novel, it feels like a real strength. It shows the ageing and the decay which, as the book illustrates with trees, is what nourishes other species and future generations. 
       
      I came to The Overstory with no great love of Richard Powers (I struggled through Orfeo); and no great sympathy for tree-huggers. I surprised myself by loving the novel; being persuaded by the message; and getting ever so emotionally attached to some of the characters. The Booker Prize has its critics, but if it can get me to read novels of this quality - against my natural instincts - then it is a wonderful thing. 
       
      *****
×