By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.
As I noted in my previous review of Book Girl, the plots and mysteries in these novels all seem to take the same turns. So rather than focus on how Konoha finds once again how his life mirrors that of the guest star this week, I have some thoughts that occurred to me as I read it, which will contain spoilers for both this book and the previous three.
First of all, as the author notes in her afterword, the cliffhanger from Book Three is not touched on here at all, except for the fact that Konoha reveals that yes, he did actually know about it and this is not a “secret” being kept from him. The reasoning for this is because Nomura-san felt that if she moved on to the ‘finale’ right now, it would do Nanase a disservice. Which is true, I suppose, except that for a book that is meant to be her focus book, Nanase gets startlingly little to do here. I’ve had issues with her in the past three books – I felt she was the flattest of the characters, and looked forward to seeing what happened with her here – but so much of the action in this book revolves around her being a touchstone to the other characters, an ideal, rather than interacting with her as a person.
That said, her scene with Konoha in the abandoned house of Mito’s family is brilliant, and a good thing too, as it’s likely to be the last decent interaction she’ll get with Konoha. Nanase may be a tsundere, but she’s never been able to repress her emotions at all. Whereas Konoha is *all* repressed emotions – except they keep slipping out of him with every panic attack he has. Their confessions and commiserations are done over cell phones, even though they’re sitting next to each other – which is both heartwarming and also quite sad. And then, finally, Nanase confesses. And Konoha, neither as the narrator nor in dialogue, ever acknowledges that she has for the rest of the novel. Not even when people confront him on it point-blank, or refer to it obliquely. Indeed, his narration can be quite aggravating as he tries to think of things to do to cheer Nanase up – you can hear your teeth grind as you read it.
For all that Konoha has been supposedly growing with each novel, he still shows signs here of being nowhere close to a functional human being. Which is absolutely fine. I mean, Konoha essentially has post-traumatic stress disorder, among other problems. As he learned in the previous Book Girl, these aren’t the sorts of things that can be resolved in a nice, pat 30-minute TV show. His joy at talking with Mariya-san earlier is based around the fact that he constantly seeks others that he can emulate, and thinks that the quiet, chai-loving joys of this music teacher give him hope. Of course, this is then stomped to bits over the rest of the book. Honestly, the real ways that Konoha grows in this book is in relation to his writing. Slowly he is coming to realize the joy that reading Miu Inoue has given to others, and that it’s not just because they’re shallow or are seeking escape in a happy fantasy world. He is accepting his own work, which will (we hope) eventually lead him to accept his own self.
Tohko, of course, is the primary reason this is happening at all. Despite having a vague harem-atmosphere in the broadest sense, the meat of this series has absolutely nothing to do with “who will Konoha end up with?” Which is good, as it’s unlikely to be Tohko, the titular Book Girl. She’s absent from a lot of the investigation for once, as she’s preparing for college exams. Of course, she blows off her practice exams in order to solve the mystery. She’s fulfilling several functions in Konoha’s life, but perhaps the most important is keeping him writing – even if he refuses to admit that what he writes for Tohko is the same thing as what he wrote as Miu Inoue. His writing is a gift, a real talent, and by Tohko not allowing that to die, even under a purportedly selfish guise of “wanting snacks”, she can help to heal his heart. Tohko is not really a love interest here – more of a muse, with a bit of therapist thrown in.
The book examined here, by the way, is The Phantom of the Opera, as stated on the back cover. With a bit of Dumas’s Camille thrown in. It’s a book that has most people nowadays thinking of the adaptations instead, as Tohko acknowledges, but it also prepares us for a lot of high emotion. Konoha’s fits and panic attacks seem even higher-strung than the prior books, and the denouement of the mystery consists of a lot of people screaming at each other. There’s a lot of sordid things happening here, as with previous Book Girl novels. Enjo Kosai, or “compensated dating”, comes up as a main plot point, and it’s not glamorized at all – it’s sordid and disempowering. The actual finale of the book, on the other hand, is quite quiet and beautiful – and leaves a little bit of hope, which is all you ask for a series like this.
As I said, the cliffhanger from Book Three is not resolved here, but Miu Asakura, the girl from Konoha’s past, does pop up here and there in Nanase’s backstory and narration – and doesn’t sound at all pleasant. Well, we couldn’t expect all happy smiles and forgiveness, now could we? Even though we don’t meet her here, she is enough of a force that Nanase’s final statement manages to be a cliffhanger on its own. After being faked out last time, I’m not sure if Book Five will resolve it either – there are eight books in the series, after all. But certainly I want to read more, and July, which sees Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation (these titles always sound so sad) seems very far away. Recommended.