A buzz has been building about Australian author Mark Henshaw’s long awaited second novel after Out of the Line of Fire. The Snow Kimono (Text) is a literary psychological thriller set in Japan and France. Insights into both those countries shape the contours, ridges and atmosphere of the novel. Paris is wet and snowy and its streets and iconic buildings are lit with fireworks and the elements. Japan is elusive and mystical, with bamboo, bridges over water and the sounds of frogs, the slow tock, tock, tock of the water clock, the strings of a shamisen in a night garden. It is also a place of snow, birthing the snow kimono.
A retired French police inspector, Auguste Jovert, receives a letter, has an accident and meets Tadashi Omura, a former lawyer from Japan. Omura begins the story of Fumika, the girl he pretended was his daughter and, over the course of the novel, relates the story of his inconceivable life. Japan, and some of its secrets, is vividly revealed to us through a Parisian prism.
Jigsaw puzzles are a tantalising symbol. Omura’s father loved the ancient tradition of jigsaws where each piece is unique and designed to deceive – to make the puzzle more difficult. He owned rare, antique puzzles made from exotic wood with inlays of precious materials. The best had infinite or contradictory solutions. Omura explains, In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world… Puzzles are objects of contemplation.
The lie behind Omura’s life unfolds like the exquisite mirror-scope that he constructs for Fumika to see the flying kites. We learn of his brilliant, devious friend, Katsuo who is about to be released from prison and whose past life shadowed Omura’s own. Katsuo is an author who mimicked his friends’ and acquaintances’ mannerisms, almost imprinting them onto himself, as well as conjoining them into his writing. He demanded stories be told to him again and again, craved power over people and displayed controlled patience.
The kimono is an alluring motif. The snow kimono was made by Sachiko’s grandmother and becomes hers when she moves to inscrutable Mr Ishiguro’s house. She is one of a number of characters who feature in the story. The clever narrative is structured into parts, showcasing major characters such as Jovert, Omura and Katsuo, as well as the females whose lives intertwine with theirs – Sachiko, Fumika, Natsumi, Mariko and Martine.
I would highly recommend The Snow Kimono to readers of Haruki Murakami’s style of literary fiction. It is likely to appear on upcoming Australian award shortlists.