This is a long and extremely fascinating book and it was a somehow intense read, so brace yourselves, this is going to be a long review – because A true Novel deserves nothing less.
I want to start off by saying, that it would not do A true Novel justice to simply compare it with Brontës Wuthering Heights, because Mizumuras novel is so much more. In every way possible. There are so many layers, different perspectives to the story told (while each one really adds enriching details), different narrators and you get to experience the protagonists at various ages and stages in their lives. (And did I mention that the characters in A true Novel are actually likeable, unlike the array of depraved assholes Brontë is providing us with?)
This edition comes as a very nice looking two-volume set, although quality-wise it is not that thrilling - pretty bad binding (handle with care, guys, seriously) and oddly enough, the cover picture started to peel off on both of my volumes (it is somehow printed on a thin film which is – for some reason – not really sticking to the actual binding). Also, the paper is pretty shiny, which is very nice to look at and to touch, but it is annoying as hell if you try to read it due to the heavy shininess and reflections.
But I like the fact, that here and there some photographs of the locations are thrown into (after all, it is called A true Novel, isn’t it).
With the exception of the last ten pages, the whole of Volume I serves as exposition. Probably a third of it is just the prologue, in which it is explained, why the book got written in the first place (still, good writing, I really enjoyed reading it). The rest of it contains the excessive family background of pretty much everyone, partly going back up to three generations (maybe this detailedness in ancestry is a Japanese thing? I don’t know), again it was interesting to read, also thanks to the rich historical details about the social life in Japan during the war and post-war era of the 20th century.
In general I easily get bored reading about any family history, but not in this case. I could have gone on a couple of hundred pages more! I cannot judge the original text, but the translation is excellent and although I initially confused the families similar surnames, I still cared about the characters (whom I learned to distinguish by their first names). Anyways, after 430 pages of background information, the „actual“ plot starts, which brings us to the second volume.
And believe me, I was binge reading this one, having to actually force myself to stop and to go to sleep one time. Volume II focuses on the relationship between Taro and Yoko and this is where all the pretty things from Volume I are going to hell. The depiction of their relationship is simply great, as well as the dynamic between the triangle Yoko - Masayuki - Taro.
Beside the simple, yet still elegant way of writing and storytelling, I loved how Mizumura constantly threw some changes into the story. The characters develop naturally as they age, and you also get to experience the generation gap due to the shifting mindsets as time moves on.
As to the length of A true Novel. Yes, almost 900 pages is a lot, but I also think it is necessary to evoke a certain effect and to achieve the attachment to the characters. You spent so much time with Fumiko, Taro, the three Saegusa sisters, Yoko, Yusuke and even the alter ego of Mizumura that you just cannot help but starting to care for them. With the aging of the once young Saegusa sisters and the growing up of Yoko and Taro, every time Fumiko is visiting them during their summer vacation, it felt like I am visiting some old friends myself. But perhaps it was not only the book’s story itself that fascinated me, but also the tiny peek into Japanese culture that you get from reading it.
As a bottom line I would say that you definitely need to be committed when reading A true Novel, but it is rewarding beyond anything!