Tuesday, 5 July 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

By David Mitchell

I realised that this is only the second book review I've produced since I started the blog. This doesn't mean that I've only read two books in the meantime (I've read 3!))) but rather that these two books seemed like worthy enough candidates to share with my readers. 'Jacob De Zoet' has been on my reading list for quite a while now - it was one of the best novels of 2010 according to The Guardian. Its author, David Mitchell is quite a renowned writer with several literary awards and nominations. However, it was not these titles that attracted me to this novel but its back cover. "The year is 1799, the place is Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor..." I have always been a huge fan of the adventure genre in literature, my favourites being "The Treasure Island", "Robinson Crusoe" and all the works by Dumas. "Jacob De Zoet" evokes exactly that spirit of the days long gone when swashbuckling seadogs were at large, each man was for himself and gallantry and true friendship were hard to come by. David Mitchell achieved the titanic task of creating a modern novel that reads like a classic.

His storytelling style, language and characters keep well within the boundaries of the genre, are colourful and delicious. The exotic location of 18th century Japan creates a romantic and slightly alien atmosphere where myths are intertwined with intrigues. If I had to describe the novel in one word, that word would be 'fragrant' - the book is full of smell descriptions; there is the freshness of the sea, the rotting excrements on the street, the sweat of the covered up Dutch and the burning incense of Japanese temples. Mitchell grabs your attention from the word go - the book opens with an extremely detailed account of a stillbirth. My friends, I literally had to put the book down and persuade myself not to throw up. There are quite a few unsavoury moments like that in the novel and they add massively to its authentic feel.

The eponymous protagonist is someone who is first presented as a young, na├»ve and inexperienced goody-two-shoes; his personal growth and inner qualities reveal themselves as his life on Dejima turns into a whirlwind of tragedy, farce and action. The main villain is slightly caricaturesque but then so are his misdeeds, chilling as they might appear to some readers. The narrative switches between several characters, so we are allowed a glimpse into the inner workings of several minds. I was particularly impressed with the novel's ending. But I obviously cannot say much about it for fear of spoiling it in case you'd like to read it. All I can say is that it was the perfect ending if only a tad too melancholic.

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