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A Tale For The Time Being


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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
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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!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. :)

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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.

 

 

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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
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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.

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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.

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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

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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
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