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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Snow Kimono

Mark Henshaw

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To purchase The Snow Kimono

Title: The Snow Kimono
Author: Mark Henshaw
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014
Length: 396 pages
Availability: The Snow Kimono - US
The Snow Kimono - UK
The Snow Kimono - Canada
The Snow Kimono - India
Le kimono de neige - France
Der Schneekimono - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : lots of seductive allure though ultimately perhaps over-twisted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 30/8/2014 Peter Pierce
Sydney Morning Herald . 19/9/2014 Mark Thomas

  From the Reviews:
  • "With agile intelligence, with boldness in what he has imagined and tight control over how it is developed, Henshaw has announced triumphantly that he is no longer a ghost on the Australian literary scene, but one of its most substantial talents." - Peter Pierce, The Australian

  • "Even if his plots are sometimes improbable, Henshaw's effects are consistently magical. (...) Incidents unroll slowly, lives unravel in a still more mannered way, scenes are prepared by bouts of foreboding or premonitions on the part of the characters. Overlapping, interlocking memories gradually expose the drift in a story; the narrative is bound together as Henshaw's figures are bound to each other." - Mark Thomas, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Snow Kimono layers several backstories coming to the fore -- bubbling to the surface, where they don't entirely change how the present is seen but certainly repeatedly shift the picture(s). Opening in Paris, in July 1989, with just-turning-sixty-three-year-old retired police inspector Auguste Jovert, the story soon moves to one recounted to him by a new neighbor, a former law professor and lawyer from Japan, Tadashi Omura -- focused then on yet another character, his childhood friend, successful writer -- and convicted murderer -- Katsuo Ikeda.
       The novel proceeds with overlaps of present and past, long sections of reminiscences and recollections with only occasional reminders of these being recounted in the present, as well as some more expansive present-day scenes.
       Before getting caught up in Omura and Ikeda's stories, Jovert is confronted with a piece of his own past, a letter from a woman claiming, plausibly, to be his daughter -- the dates would appear to work out, given his time in Algeria three decades earlier. Having lost wife and son, the fairly isolated Jovert now has an opportunity to find a bit of family again -- though he mulls over seeking her out over the course of the novel. (He does also eventually connect with another young woman, a peripheral figure from his past who also wants to seek out a long-lost family member; she is also the only one he can turn to, lean on and talk about his Omura-experiences with.)
       When Omura appears at Jovert's doorstep he begins with his own daughter-story, relating some experiences with the child he raised, Fumiko -- long letting her believe he was her father when, in fact, she was the daughter of Ikeda -- who was in prison at the time.
       Omura's reminiscences make their way to the point where Fumiko learns the truth -- and Ikeda is released from prison. But it then spreads much further, Omura relating much more of their own childhood -- they were very close for several of their school-years -- as well the more dramatic turns in Ikeda's life. He left university after embarrassing his mentor -- a very supportive professor who, so it is long thought, might have been driven to suicide by the betrayal -- and though Ikeda eventually found great success as a writer also caused havoc in some personal lives. And there's also that murder he committed.
       Henshaw's telling is seductive, airs of mystery all around -- the suggestion that there's more to it all, yet full of misdirecting teases. One anecdote is about the disillusionment that comes with a massive jigsaw puzzle, and The Snow Kimono is like a game in answer to that, the possibilities of that final picture, when the pieces are all in place, shifting to the very end (unlike the jigsaw puzzle, with it's pre-set picture-ending).
       Identity is significant throughout the novel, and there are repeated instances of deception. The elaborate game Ikeda played in destroying his university mentor's career involved him both pretending to be someone he was not, and then unmasking himself. Later, he sometimes claims to be his friend Tadashi Omura to the women he seduces ("Tadashi Omura. He was surprised how natural it sounded") -- while Omura in turn admits:

I have often wondered, Omura told Jovert, what it must have been like to be him, to be inside his skin, just for a few hours, a day, to experience the world that inhabited him. How extraordinary it must have been.
       After many months spent listening to Omura, Jovert is also more reflective -- reminding himself:
What had Professor Moura said ? We can only see our lives through the eyes of another.
       Which is something characters repeatedly do, in various ways, in the novel -- while not always being upfront about the stories they are telling, about themselves or others. So also it is Jovert, the old police inspector, who realizes at one point that a story Ikeda recounted to Omura, who then in turn tells it to Jovert, wasn't, in fact, second-hand as Ikeda claimed, but rather had to be first-hand: Ikeda himself the witness to a tragic death, who then removed himself from that particular episode.
       Parentage is also an issue throughout -- Omura pretending to be a father, a woman pretending to be a governess (rather than the mother she actually is), the orphaned Ikeda and his relationships with women -- and various mothers, fathers, and children dying (generally tragically and family-destroyingly, in one way or another).
       Very late, Jovert recalls Omura saying of their meeting, and the connection for those several months in Paris, that from the first he realized:
It was preordained. It was meant to be. The unfolding I had been waiting for, for so long, had at last begun.
       Indeed, from the start there seems a sense of inevitability in the novel: even as the actions and events that are described seem unconnected, Henshaw creates a strong sense of deeper connections. Among his interesting fictional tactics is of false clues -- beginning with the impossible to ignore echoes of Les Misérables' inspector Javert in the name of the protagonist, or the fact that the present-day parts of the novel feature the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, with Bastille Day repeatedly mentioned and then described at some length. All these, and much more, seem like signifiers -- and yet they often aren't, at least not in the obvious ways.
       Stretching back to Algeria in the late 1950s, and to post-war Japan, The Snow Kimono constantly shifts the ground underneath the reader -- and even what seems clearly established often proves to be more uncertain. (So also Jovert, right at the start of the novel, and Omura, in its conclusion, come literally crashing down to earth and find themselves lying in the road.)
       It all makes for an unusual read. Henshaw doesn't offer the easy satisfactions of much puzzle-literature, but the many turns and shifts make for a constantly engaging read. With many of its episodes beautifully and vividly rendered, much of The Snow Kimono is a also beautiful to read -- awfully so, too, in part, as several of the events are truly terrible.
       An interesting, engaging work -- perhaps ultimately overly-twisted, but fascinating nevertheless.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 April 2017

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The Snow Kimono: Reviews: Other books by Mark Henshaw under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Australian author Mark Henshaw was born in 1951.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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