Do you ever get into reading a book so much that you practically want to devour it? How about this question: Does looking at some books fill you with a perverse hunger for their authors’ delicious figures of speech, ironic sense of humor, edge-of-your-seat suspense, heart-rending romance, or delectable mystery so much that you do actually devour the book, page by flavorful, rich page? That’s exactly the sort of insatiable hunger that fills the heart, mind, body, and soul of third-year high school student and self-stylized “book girl” (and goblin) Tohko Amano. She and her rather browbeaten friend, Konoha Inoue, are the only two members of their school’s book club. If this book is any indication of Mizuka Nomura’s writing style, then this promises to be an appealing, fun-to-read series.
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mimeis a quirky, often humorous novel that’s full of literary references. It’s hard to classify under any one genre heading. It has some elements of a graphic novel, in that it has manga pictures scattered here and there throughout the book, but the majority of the pages don’t have pictures on them, so if anything, it’s a mix between a graphic novel and one told traditionally, with words. There’s a romantic current that runs through the novel, but I wouldn’t call it strictly a romance book, or chick lit though there’s enough of a romantic theme to it that it might appeal to females perhaps a little more than to males. And, last but not least, there’s a very serious theme of suicide that is very important to the plot. In her Afterword, the author describes the novel as a “bittersweet comedy.”
So, what’s the book about, and who is the “Suicidal Mime” of the title? I mentioned that Tohko’s friend and fellow book club member, Konoha, is “browbeaten.” Konoha, in an ironic way, could also be considered the “book girl,” of the title, because, even though he’s a male. He gained his fifteen minutes of fame by winning a story contest in which he used a girl’s name as a pseudonym. Tohko knows this, though he doesn’t want the rest of the students to find out, because he thinks it would be embarrassing if they knew. She asks him to write her short stories sometimes, as snacks. He jokes around with her about her appetite, saying she’s more concerned with eating than anything else, and he remarks in parts of the novel about her being “flat-chested,” but he also recognizes her beauty, and is attracted to her. He doesn’t seem to want her to be his girlfriend, generally speaking, she has him wrapped around her little finger.
It is Tohko who sets up a mailbox at the school and advertises that Konoha will help people with their love lives by writing love letters. That is how Konoha gets involved with Chia Takeda, and how he and Tohko learn about the mysterious and apparently suicidal mime. Chia wants to attract the attention of a boy on the archery team, Shuji Kataoka, who is a seventeen-year-old third-year student there, who also looks as if he could be Konoha’s doppleganger. Tohko has asked for Chia to write a report on everything that happens and she has plans to eat the results, so she hopes that the love letters end up causing romance to blossom between Chia and Shuji.
The trouble is, letters supposedly from Shuji start turning up, ones in which he mentions an unknown person he refers to only by the letter “S,” who has a big influence on his life. Konoha and Tohko are curious to learn who Shuji is, and they research by looking at the school’s old yearbooks and asking alums if they know about Shuji, because there’s no current student by that name who attends their school. There was one, however, ten years ago, who had been very popular and a star on the archery team, and who also had committed suicide by stabbing himself with scissors and jumping off of the roof for good measure.
He says in his letters that Chia finds (and believes have been sent personally to her) that he’s killed someone, he has blood on his hands, and that no one knows the sort of person he really is, because he wears a mask all of the time to hide from others his true self. His letters and the way he describes himself sounds to Tohko very similar to the words of the famous Japanese author, Osama Dazai, as if they’re taken almost line by line from his book No Longer Human. Soon after the book was published, he committed suicide.
Tohko and Konoha aren’t sure if Chia has been telling them the truth or is delusional. If she’s telling the truth, then someone at the school is claiming for some reason to be Shuji, and Tohko and Konoha want to stop whomever it is from possibly committing suicide like the Shuji from ten years ago and Dazai did. Did she see Shuji’s ghost, come back from the dead – or, does she long for love so much that she’s made up an elaborate story in her mind and is trying to convince Tohko and Konoha that a teen boy finds her attractive?
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is a light-hearted, fun book. It’s a good start to Nomura’s proposed series. I liked the blending of genres within the book, and the author somehow managed to make a teen girl who eats books seem to be almost normal in the context of the other strange things that go on in the plot. I would have preferred that there were more manga drawings in the novel, and that they were done in color instead of the black-and-white that the illustrator, Miho Takenka, uses. I hope they will be in color in future books in the series. But, other than that small complaint, the drawings fit with the novel well and looked pretty good. I’d recommend this novel to anyone who likes manga comics, or well-written bittersweet novels with a strong vein of humor in them.