16-year-old Nao moved from America to Japan, where her Dad can’t find a job and is drinking and her classmates bully her mercilessly. From a French-maid cafe where costumed girls welcome the male guests warmly – and more – she starts writing what she means to be a biography of her amazing Grandmother, but what turns into a diary. Miles away and years later, novelist Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a watch, some letters and a diary inside washed up on the beach of the island they live on off Canada. For Ruth, Nao’s story takes her attention from her book, her partner and their cat and she is determined to find out what happened to Nao and to her family.
So, as you can see from the length of the synopsis, this is a fairly complex set up. The two story lines alternate, us discovering Nao’s story at the same time as Ruth, and taking in the two different things at once – plus a deluge of information and reference to a plethora of different topics. At first, I really really liked this book. Then I got a bit bored, but then towards the end it picked up again. It shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker prize, and with so many thoughtful elements in it I can see why. And on reflection, in writing this review, I think I liked it.