Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Harm­less Like You

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Scep­tre, £14.99)

IT’S fine to be the sort of per­son who ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’, but no­body likes to think of them­selves as ‘harm­less’. that’s the fate of Yuki, a shy Ja­panese teenager in 1960s new York. With none of the dar­ing of Yoko Ono or the Bond girl beauty of Akiko Wak­abayashi, she’s dis­missed as just an­other mis­fit— an out­sider who fails to fit Ori­en­tal­ist clichés. It’s up to her to make her way in the hos­tile city she con­sid­ers her home.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan de­scribes her­self as ‘Ja­panese, Bri­tish, Chi­nese, Amer­i­can, a fic­tion writer, an il­lus­tra­tor and a list-maker’. So far, so eclec­tic. Harm­less Like You has al­ready prompted plenty of hype and the book has a youth­ful­ness that only a fresh­faced de­but nov­el­ist can pro­duce.

You’ll ei­ther love or hate the book’s lyri­cism (new York is painted in chap­ters en­ti­tled ‘Goethite Ochre’, ‘Ver­mil­lion’ and ‘Ce­ladon’) and the plot ini­tially reads as a patch­work of tropes from teen movies: gawky girl gets picked up by the cool crowd, match­mak­ing and makeover scenes en­sue.

How­ever, the book soon out­grows its kitsch be­gin­nings and evolves into a com­plex med­i­ta­tion on art and truth. As­saulted by the sense-overload of the city, Yuki must work out the dif­fer­ence be­tween style and sub­stance, be­tween beauty and its abuses. Can a bruise be beau­ti­ful if it was in­flicted by some­one you love? And does an ob­ject be­come art when it’s ex­hib­ited in a gallery?

these ques­tions are pur­sued in a par­al­lel plot set in the present day nar­rated by Yuki’s es­tranged son, Jay, an art dealer, adul­terer and re­luc­tant fa­ther. It’s through his eyes that we even­tu­ally en­counter the real Yuki, show­ing that this is no sim­ple story of self dis­cov­ery. Some harms never heal, but they can achieve a rev­e­la­tory sym­me­try. Matilda Bathurst

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