Friday, 15 December 2017

Review: 'A Separation' by Katie Kitamura

A Separation fascinated me from the moment I saw it. Relationships are incredibly so interesting, the way people change during the course of them, how we lie and misunderstand. We all strive after relationships, after being close with other people, finding someone who we belong to and who belongs to us. So when the chance to read A Separation materialised, I jumped at it. Thanks to Clerkenwell Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/03/2017
Publisher: Clerkenwell Press

A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it's time for them to separate. For the moment it's a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, alone, she gets word that her ex-husband has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged southern Peloponnese. Reluctantly she agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she's not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild and barren landscape, she traces the failure of their relationship, and finds that she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love. A story of intimacy, infidelity and compassion, A Separation is about the gulf that divides us from the lives of others and the narratives we create to mask our true emotions. As the narrator reflects upon her love for a man who may never have been what he appeared, Kitamura propels us into the experience of a woman on the brink of catastrophe. A Separation is a riveting masterpiece of absence and presence that will leave the reader astonished, and transfixed.
We meet our unnamed narrator at the end of her relationship. They have decided to separate and are now floating in that space between on and off, married and divorced, together and apart. For a while now they haven't seen each other and our narrator has, in a sense moved on with her life. And yet this separation isn't final, no one has spoken yet of divorce although she is pretty sure she wants it. They haven't even told anyone yet that they are separated, it is a secret, shamefully kept private. In that situation a call arrives from her (still) mother-in-law who demands she flies to Greece to find her (still) husband. And she says yes. Because how can she not when no one knows, when she is technically still a wife and when she needs to talk to him anyway. And from there a constant conflict begins within her between duty and freedom. A Separation is about how things end, how we let go and how maybe sometimes we can't.

It's strangely difficult to put A Separation down. Kitamura crafts a narrative that intrigues and makes the reader desperate to know more. What happens to people when they separate, what happens when people lose each other? Because Kitamura's narrator is unnamed, while everyone else is named, you feel the erasure of self that exists in her, and many other relationships. She exists in relation to others. We get to know her based on how she interacted with her husband, her parents-in-law, friends, but we also see her struggling with defining herself as an individual. We are in her head but we are also outside of it. The lack of clarity, the confusion of emotions, it is very recognisable for anyone who has been in a relationship or has had a relationship end. Although marketed as a mystery, I wouldn't really classify A Separation as such. It is a psychological book, a book about humans and emotions. There will be moments of realisation similar to a mystery novel, but they won't be about the plot, but rather about what the events of the plot reveal to you about yourself, about humans. It's also a sad book, tragic, but also beautiful in its own way. You're in a character's head and like you're own head, you can never be quite sure where it's going. But the journey is always interesting.

Katie Kitamura strikes a very impressive balance in A Separation, writing an engrossing novel in a very passive voice. We don't really know her main character, she responds rather than acts, and dialogue isn't set apart with quotation marks. As such, reading A Separation isn't always as easy as reading other books is. You have to work on it, you have to dig into the narrator and see who she is, what she wants. In a way Kitamura here echoes the process of forging a relationship. It is difficult to know who people are, what they hide away, what they're not telling you. So you have to go into it with trust and goodwill, mining every small detail for meaning. She is investigating herself and her emotions, and so are we. I loved this about A Separation because the reader is as much a passive observer of the narrator's relationship as she is in that moment. We are both trying to understand what happened, and how it happened. And there is no perfect, happy end to that query.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I adored A Separation and couldn't put it down. I was drawn into Kitamura's narrator's mind and  found myself caring. I also realised I was investigating myself as her narrator investigated herself. A Separation is a special book, but also one that is probably not for everyone. I'd recommend it to readers interested in Literary Fiction.

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