This is a difficult book to review; you all know I am going to slag it off, but I have tried to approach it with an open mind. Let’s get the headline quote over and done with:
"I couldn’t put it down"
I’d better put that in context: "I couldn’t put it down fast enough". It’s not even, as Mr Arudou rated Avatar, "a good college try" but more just a stream of hate of Japanese society interspersed with highlights from various blog entries from Debito.org. The best way to get through the book is to play a drinking game – every time a theme from his blog appears, take a drink. It’ll soon numb the pain of you banging your head against the table.
He – sorry, Gary Schmidt, an amalgamation of himself and Christopher Savoie – gets pushed out of the Japanese line at Narita, stopped by the police on the way to the train, spoken to in English and carded in a hotel all in the space of the journey from the airport to his hotel. Indeed, by page 78, the pretence of being a novel disappears and an essay on Japanese police procedures appears. Then there’s the excruciatingly-awkward dating portion, but more troubling is the bile spat out towards not just Gary’s in-laws but Japanese in general; on one hand it’s fiction, but on the other hand as the story is so personal to Mr Arudou it is easy to assume that it is him, not Gary, that is saying things like "Heart-to-hearts were supposed to be mother-daughter, so Keiko would have to act as interlocutor for Gary to find out anything about Aiko’s school day" and "He would show them that once out of Japan, the spectrum of mindsets and possibilities could be more than just shades of grey."
About three-quarters of the way through the book, I began to suspect that I’d missed the whole point and it’s actually a satire of himself and his blog, especially when I read lines like "…again, something that would make it harder for meddling bystanders to describe after the getaway." I can’t help picturing the Scooby-Doo villain of the week saying that line. Perhaps this is just a side-effect of my drinking game?
Looking at the book itself, at $10 for 100 pages it is distinctly overpriced and very distinctly underedited. He once mentioned in a talk how articles needed 17 drafts, yet if anything he seemed proud of only doing four drafts of this.
The story ends with Gary, alone, flying off into the sunset and Thailand; does a similar destiny await the author? The letter of thanks I got on buying the book perhaps hints at that: "Your support will help me and Debito.org go in new directions."
Stars out of five: do you really need to ask?