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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Painted In Delicate Tones

One Morning Like A Bird - Andrew Miller

Set in Japan in 1940, Andrew Miller's novel focuses on Yuji, a young man with literary ambitions and an admirer of French culture at an unfortunate time in his country's history.

As the society around him grows increasingly nationalistic and militaristic Yuji becomes involved with Alissa, a young French woman with whom he has a child. It's a dangerous liaison and he is under surveillance by the secret police. But at the same time his talents are being courted by a propaganda unit set up to make patriotic films in which the shedding of the nation's blood is seen in almost mystical terms.

It's a fascinating setting and there are some beautiful moments, like this description of an encounter between Yuji and his friend, Taro, whose brother, an unsuccessful rival for Alissa's affections, has just joined the army:

He turns and sees his friend crossing the concourse, his broad back his big shoulders already starting to be rounded by desk work, but before he can follow or call out to him, the crowd opens one of its many doors and Taro, without a pause, without a moment's hesitation, steps inside and is lost to sight.

or Yuji's emotional paralysis when Alissa leaves Japan:

He does not spend the day. He moves its hours one by one, an idiot at an abacus.

An intriguing read, it was, nevertheless, not an entirely satisfying one. There were too many times when I felt distant from the characters, unsure exactly who was who. It was as if the whole thing was painted in such delicate tones – water-colour on silk perhaps – that at times I struggled to see the complete picture.