A Tale For The Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

I am currently reading the Man Booker nominated A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It’s part of my usual Man Booker trawl through the Shortlist at about my birthday time. I’ve mentioned that before on this blog.

In all honesty, I picked up this book rather than some others on the Shortlist because of its cover. What do our mothers and fathers always tell us not to do when judging books? But let me try to put its cover into words…

It is predominantly a white cover. Not quite white. There is a hint of blue to the whiteness. And speckles. If I knew more ornithology I could probably suggest an appropriate bird-egg-analogy. I’d like to say gull egg but that is dictated by my own narrative preferences.

The main design of the cover is in the shape of a circle. A red circle such as could be found on the Japanese flag. But it’s been designed to look like a sticker that is in the process of being peeled off: half folded over and thereby turning a red circle into a red crescent, exposing the white gluey back of it.

As if behind the sticker, there is a ghostly, opaque face. The left eye (on the reader’s right) and nose and mouth are reasonably defined and looking directly at the reader with a rather Mona Lisaesque enigmatic smile. Her hairline, forehead, cheeks and chin fade away.

Beneath her again I’d a seascape: large waves and dark ominous water on the right edge; a coastline towards the top left; seabirds circling towards the top.

Using a very strange app called Blippar, my phone can animate the cover! How cool is that?! We see the red circle being pulled back; the girl’s eye blinks at us, somewhat unnervingly; we see the waves crash; and a hand is seen on the right, filling out a page with writing.

Augmented Reality. Is that what describes this?

The word that springs to my mind is palimpsest: a tablet or page on which writing can be scraped off and overwritten but with echoes and ghosts of the earlier writing beneath.

And that is evoked in the text of the novel: Nao is a Japanese girl – and one of the most vibrant and most engaging first person narrators I have ever read – who picks up a notebook. It is a notebook inside the recycled (or vandalised, depending on your point of view) covers of Marcel Proust’s Á La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Inspired by and perhaps intimidated by the shade of Proust, Nao uses the diary to pass on the story of and stories from her

great grandmother Yasutani Jiko. She was a nun and a novelist and New Woman of the Taisho era. She was also an anarchist and a feminist who had plenty of lovers, both males and females.


I’m only in the novel by 38 pages so far and don’t know how the story ends but Ozeki interweaves the story of Nao writing her diary with that of Ruth who finds and reads it when it is washed ashore.

I do need to cope with one terrible thing reading this book. Now I know that Ozeki didn’t win the Booker, I’m not sure how to deal with the fact that I’m really going to want her to!




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