~illustrated by Miho Takeoka
~translated by Karen McGillicuddy
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is the first volume in the Book Girl light novel series, currently up to fifteen volumes, by Mizuki Nomura. Originally published in Japan in 2006, the English edition translated by Karen McGillicuddy was released by Yen Press in 2010. Yen Press has also kept the original illustrations by Miho Takeoka. While I liked the basic conceit of Book Girl, a yokai that gains sustenance by eating the written word, I was somewhat hesitant to pick up the first volume since the Suicidal Mime in the title seemed a bit odd to me. (I don't know, maybe it's too literal or too free of a translation of the original title.) Fortunately, someone encouraged me to read the book anyway. I did and I loved it. Until Yen Press published the first volume, I was unaware of Book Girl. Although there have been several versions of the story, including manga and anime adaptations, the original light novel series is the first iteration to have made it into English translation.
Konoha Inoue and his upperclassman Tohko Amano are the only two members of their high school's literary club. Konoha spends most meetings writing "snacks" for Tohko, short improvisational stories which she literally devours. As a "book girl" she is obsessed with the written word not only for its literary value but for its taste as well since human cuisine holds no flavor for her. And she is always looking for new sources of food, which is how Konoha gets roped into writing love letters for Chia Takeda, another student. In exchange, Chia will provide a handwritten report of her developing relationship, sparing no details, which Tohko is certain will taste absolutely delicious. Only it seems that the alleged recipient of the letters, Shuji Kataoka, doesn't actually exist. Chia isn't being forthcoming about the situation and the more Konoha and Tohko investigate on their own, the stranger and stranger things become.
It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that literature plays an important role in a series called Book Girl. Of particular importance in Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is Osamu Dazai and his last published novel No Longer Human. While the literature references might be more meaningful to someone already familiar with the works mentioned, they are incorporated so well in Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime that it is not necessary to have read any of the books referred to to appreciate what Nomura is doing. In fact, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime will probably encourage many readers to seek out the authors and works referenced. Already an avid reader myself, I was absolutely delighted by this aspect of the book. I loved whenever Tohko would start rhapsodizing about literature, a very visceral experience for her. It was fun to imagine what various books and stories would taste like, how the enjoyment would vary from person to person, and how something can be appreciated even if it's not enjoyed. Not unlike the traditional consumption of literature, actually. We all have our personal preferences and tastes, and books can be very important to people.
There is a lot going on in Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime for such a short novel. Part school drama, part mystery, part paranormal fiction, and even part literature guide with just a touch of humor, it's almost as if Nomura couldn't quite decide what it should be. But, it worked for me. I found the book absorbing and compelling and I couldn't wait to keep reading more once I started it. Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime isn't perfect, the resolution of the primary mystery is somewhat anticlimactic and awkward for one, but I thought it was a fantastic start to the series. Nomura builds tension nicely and the story slowly gets more disconcerting as Konoha tries to figure out what is going on. And there is plenty about his own past and circumstances that he is trying to keep hidden. I am really looking forward to learning more about him and Tohko in the next volume, Book Girl and the Famished Spirit.