Tuvalu by Andrew O’Connor
Read this one back in 2007 and initially shared this review on My Space. It’s been a while since I read this so not sure what I’d write now but, as I continue my hard drive cleaning, sharing anyway.
Japan, as rendered in this book, feels by turns claustrophobic (certainly smelly and seedy and oppressively uniform and industrial) and alien (even magical). Noah Tuttle, an Australian, has come to this place teeming with people, to hide. He stumbles apathetically through it until a fresh breeze – a spot of beauty and excitement and wildness – blows in. She is Mami Kaketa, tempting forbidden fruit – especially considering his pre-existing ties with the (from Noah’s perspective) increasingly less alluring Tilly. That’s not to say he’s not conflicted; lying with Tilly in an Australia that now (to him) feels foreign, for instance, he muses, “She was like a warm room from which I listened to storms”. Mami, meanwhile, is adrenaline pumping through his veins. Noah’s father describes him as immature and selfish and this reader is inclined to agree, notwithstanding how unattractively Noah’s father is portrayed and the fact that Noah is less deliberately cruel, even when he is, and more lost and in a sort of stasis of indecision and confusion. I found myself increasingly disenchanted (at times, impatient) with both him and self-absorbed Mami. The dynamic felt at times very Breakfast at Tiffany’s – the film version (eccentric socialite with family issues and borderline criminal tendencies meets hapless and hopelessly enamored love interest who could use a confidence boost and an adventure, and leads him on a merry ride). The characters though weren’t necessarily as interesting to me, notwithstanding all of the other factors muddying the waters.
The book has a darkly humorous tone. This is not to be confused with a laugh-out-loud funny tone; it certainly wasn’t as funny as I anticipated when prompted to buy it after the author’s reading at Calabash in Jamaica in 2007; and in fact has quite a bleak tone at times.
As for the title, Tuvalu, is described in an exchange between Noah and Tilly as a physical place in the Pacific but also that mysterious place beyond the horizon that eggs us on…a dream. Its appeal lies more in the possibility than the reality of it. Tilly: “We all have to look forward to something don’t we?” Of course, at the time that she said this she already knew her own fate which makes the whole exchange just kind of sad in retrospect.
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