Thursday, 20 February 2014

Blogger Book Club Chat: A Tale For The Time Being

So it may be a week later than planned, but it's finally here! The Blogger Book Club chat all about Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being.

Firstly, I really hope you all enjoyed the book!? I honestly had no idea what to expect when I started reading it- I knew that it would be told from two different perspectives which were kind of closely interwoven, but other than that? Nada. Zip. I managed to resist reading spoilers on Wikipedia (a terrible habit I have for TV series, actually) so I went the whole way through the book without any idea of what was going to happen.

Personally, I really liked this book. The fact it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 made me feel intelligent (I think they only tend to shortlist intelligent books, right!?), and I like books which are told from a variety of perspectives- Game of Thrones, The Time Traveler's Wife, Jodi Picoult books all do it for me. I didn't think it was too difficult to keep up with the jumps either, though I did find that sometimes things were a little too convenient- for example, when Ruth was wondering about Nao's family, only for the next Nao chapter to start with her family tree. Though I suppose having made it to the end of the book, that kind of makes sense too. I also really enjoyed the slightly mystical element to the story. Like Ruth, I certainly forgot that Nao wasn't writing at the same time that Ruth was reading.  

Found here
And I liked how it could have been a true story- because I suppose a lot of books are like that, aren't they? Thinly veiled autobiographies, or the stories we wish had happened to us. I liked that Ruth Ozeki was really up front about this.

SO. Now I've rambled a little bit about my thoughts on the book, it's over to you. What did you like about the book? Was there anything you didn't like about it? Which part of the narrative did you like better- Nao, or Ruth? And most importantly- how do you think the diary got to Ruth? Somehow, I don't think it would have been just washed away in the tsunami- it was too carefully packed. I personally think Nao threw it into the sea- whether in Japan or Canada though, I don't know.

I'll drop some more questions into the comments section throughout the day. Make sure you tick the "notify me" button in the comments box if you want to know when someone adds a comment to the post! 


  1. I really enjoyed the book, buuuuuut I'm going to need persuading when it comes to the magical realism in this. I don't enjoy books with magical realism. I can't let go enough to enjoy them.

    I loved Nao's narration. I think Ozeki captured the character of a confused 16 year old girl perfectly. I found Ruth rather one dimensional, and sometimes irritating. I really wanted her bits to be over and done with so I could hear more from Nao.

    As to where the book came from? I'm not sure, did all her scientisty friends come to the conclusion that it couldn't have been washed up by the tsunami? I can't remember.

    1. I preferred Nao's bits too- Ruth was good, and maybe served a bit like the 1970s bits in Birdsong- something of a metaphorical slap to the fact to bring you back to reality? I liked the way Nao was written better too though, and I agree Ruth was a bit one dimensional- could have done with some development I think!!

      I think they did agree it was too soon for it to come from the tsunami- I wish she'd explained where it came from though!!

    2. Birdsong is on my TBR list for this year. Think you may have recommended it to me before? And I hadn't thought of Ruth's parts as being a slap back to reality. I like that. That's probably what Ruth felt like while reading Nao's diary. She had to ration her reading of it and each time she stopped reading was probably a bump back to reality for her.

    3. I have! You have to read it, one of my all time faves (though feel free to skip the 1970s bits, they add nothing other than reminding you that actually these things did happen...) I think that's why she had to ration it- to remind herself that this was a person's life, not just a story, you know?

  2. I have to agree again and say I much preferred Nao's narration to Ruth's. I loved how Nao told her story, as sad as some parts were, and I loved her stories of old Jiko!

    I have to say I really didn't like Ruth. I thought her character came across as quite harsh at times, and I felt so sorry for poor Oliver sometimes. Poor guy could do no right sometimes!!!

    I have to say I got wrapped up into the story of Nao as well sometimes and forgot that the story she was telling wasn't from the present time.

    In regards to where the diary came from. I don't know and I kind of like the mystery behind it. Like Oliver says towards the end of the book because Ruth is sad that she will never find out Nao's fate, whether she is alive or dead. Sometimes the unknown is the best. That way, Nao can be alive if Ruth wants her to be. The same applies with the diary.

    1. Oh my goodness I felt so sorry for Oliver. He was totally the 'me' in the book, being all rational and making sense of everything.

    2. But Nao isn't completely innocent either- she's pretty damn awful to her dad, and to the boy she grabs in the alley (I've forgotten his name!), so I'd argue that maybe she's quite harsh too? I mean, you'd think considering the fact she is contemplating suicide too, she'd kind of understand where her dad was coming from, perhaps? I do agree that I felt bad for Oliver though!!

      I agree though, sometimes the unknown is best- it's great not knowing where it came from, or what happened to Nao. Allows us to make our own minds up :)

  3. I said 'I have to say' a lot! Ha ha! Apparently I have a lot to say!

  4. I agree that Nao's side of things was much more interesting than Ruth's - as the book went on I found Ruth more and more dull and irritating - seems like I'm not the only one who thought that, which makes me think Ozeki did it intentionally.

    I liked the mystery at the end, and the quantum physics stuff. It felt a bit like it had been shoe-horned in, but the overall idea that Nao was alive if Ruth wanted her to be was cool.

    I wasn't sure abut the dream sequence where Ruth went and talked to Nao's dad and put the letters in the box of Haruki's remains - it was a little bit too 'suspend your disbelief' for me. It didn't feel like it fit in with the rest of the book, and was just done for convenience. Like Jenny, I struggle a bit with magical realism - either write a fantasy book, or don't - just pick one and stick with it.

    This all sounds a bit negative - I did genuinely enjoy reading the book, but the enjoyment was mostly in Nao's narrative.

    1. The dream sequence I really didn't like. Actually, I didn't mind the dream, it was the blank pages in the diary I didn't like. Did Oliver believe her when she was telling him this? Was it all supposed to have been a dream or did pages actually just turn blank? Did she secretly take a peek at the ending?

      If it genuinely was magical realism then you're right Rachel, you can't just throw it in like that. It would need to have been there all the way through the book.

      Hmmm. Word vomit.

    2. I really liked the quantum physics stuff! I like Schrodingers cat, it's a cool concept, don't you think? But yes, I do agree that the dream stuff was a bit much- like REALLY? And J, I agree that the page thing really annoyed me. Oliver can't really have believed her, can he?! It was a bit shoehorned in, I agree.

      I think we all seem to have had the same issues with the book though, which is good in some ways, I guess?!

  5. OK- extra question! What do you think about the idea of reader and writer combining to "make magic"? Do you think reading the whole book is a bit like the whole Schrodinger's cat scenario- as in, if no one reads a book, is it both good and bad? Finished and unfinished, like we were saying above?! I have no idea!

    1. I have to say that the whole Schrodinger's cat thing went way over my head. I know nothing about quantum mechanics/physics. Perhaps I wasn't smart enough to read this book :P And if it did turn out to be quantum physics or whatever we're talking about, where on earth did that come from?

      I suspect she lost a lot of people at this point...

  6. Weeelll, I'm very late to the party with this But I'm determined to put in my two pennorth!

    I really enjoyed the book. I liked both Nao and Ruth, and I got totally absorbed in both their stories. I didn't think that Ruth treated Oliver badly (except for a couple of harsh words) - I thought the book was pretty clear that they had both sacrificed/compromised a lot for their relationship and I thought they muddled along quite well. There was one time when Ruth said something pretty awful to Oliver, but it was in the heat of the moment, it wasn't deliberately malicious and she immediately took it back. I don't think that makes her a bad person, I think it makes her human - we've all said things we shouldn't have to the ones we love.

    I adored the parts about Japan - it's history and social structures. It reminded me of the way a lot of translated manga takes pains to educate the (English/American) reader about Japanese life. I felt like I got a real sense of day to day life in the are where Nao, Jiko and their families lived. The bullying and sexual assault part was dealt with really well, probably because it was told from Nao's point of view and was relevant to the story.

    I also loved the conservation stuff that Oliver and Ruth discussed.

    The parts I didn't like were:
    The dream sequence - it was a bit weird - I'm quite keen on magical realism but that part didn't grab me. It just came out of nowhere! I'd have preferred to have some foreshadowing to it, or more of a buildup. It just didn't really work.
    The Schrodinger's cat stuff at the end bored me to tears. I am Not A Fan of adding in extraneous material at the end of books (I'm also looking at you here Tolkein) - the way to continue to involve readers in the world you've created is to write a sequel (hello every fantasy book ever written). I do not need back up notes. They don't add anything to the core story.

    On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. Thanks for picking it. :)

    1. I agree with you on their relationship actually, I can be a super bitch when I want, so who I am to judge. Poor Ben. I find Japanese culture fascinating in general. It's the first modern Japanese book I've read. I'd love to ask the author what the dream sequence stuff was all about!


I absolutely love comments, and do my very best to reply to them all- if you have a specific question, try tweeting me @cupsaucerblog