Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey

Generally when I read a book I find myself curious about the location in which the book takes places. Interestingly, after finishing Massey's first Rei Shimura novel I had the exact opposite response. I have little to no interest in visiting Japan based on Massey's description of the people and the culture. That's not entirely fair; I suppose it would be like viewing all Americans based on a book that I read about New York City. Nonetheless, Tokyo holds no appeal for me. And, Massey's description of the staid, paternalistic society did little to win me over to Japanese culture.
The story revolves around Rei Shimura a half-Japanese, half-American 20-something who lives in a small apartment in Tokyo and teaches English to Japanese businessmen. During a New Year's Eve vacation she becomes involved in a murder scandal. She finds herself intertwined with Hugh Glendinning, a Scotsman who is accused of the murder.
I read another of Massey's books - much later in the series - and liked it well enough to have gone back and gotten more in the series. But, at this point, the character is not overly likable. She is quick to be offended. She tends to be prickly to the point of offensive. And Massey creates a weird friendship triangle between three of the characters that seems awkward.
When I finished the long, vaguely convoluted plot my immediate response was, (in high academic terminology) No duh! Massey threw out innumerable red herrings but, to me, they were all quite obviously not part of the overriding plot.
Massey did win an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She has continued to expand the series having written at least nine further books. And, despite everything negative I've said in this review, I'm currently reading the second book in the series. So, what is it that has kept me reading? I think it's Massey's incredible description of a people and a society. I might not want to visit it, but I am intrigued by it and I feel like Massey has described this world more honestly and aptly than some authors might. Plus, while I find Rei immature, I know that she matures as I read in the later book. I appreciate the fact that Massey has written a character that is not stagnant.
Convoluted review? Yeah, that's sort of how I felt about the book.

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