The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende | Rating: ★★★☆☆
As a note, a printed galley of this novel was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.
Isabel Allende returns with The Japanese Lover and has already been greeted with anticipation from her most loyal of fans and new readers alike. It’s a relatively solid release about history, love and survival and Allende has a knack for speaking to the soul of many in the past. Many readers will agree that it is very much so in the vein of some of her past works. I, like many others, was eager to get my hands on this release.
Although it has her signature sweetness, honesty and talent; the novel itself didn’t do much for me in terms of captivating my attention for a good chunk of it. I feel indifferent now as I look back. And even though it picks up near the end, it just wasn’t for me at the end of the day. It was good but not great. It is not her most memorable work.
I’m sure many will disagree with me there.
Historical fiction is a tricky thing and while her writing is as vivid as ever, something about it just didn’t flow I sat it down multiple times and found myself needing more from its tale. See, here's the weird part: it isn't the history aspect of it all that makes a weak point, it's just something about the story.
Simply put: I just didn’t connect to it on a personal level and that was so disappointing. It had a nice tone to it in many moments and the nostalgia was beauty at its finest, but the moments outside of that really went against it. I didn’t have any easy time following it.
With a plot line and setting so promising, I just kept waiting for more of a spark to it. And as a love story told through the years in its narration there just seems to be little time to make up for what it was lacking. While it isn’t an awful read, it certainly isn’t her best work or the best of the year.
I probably won’t pick it up again.
God, I wish my review didn’t sound so negative. I’m not trying to. I’m just disappointed. I really, really am upset with myself for not enjoying it.
As I said already, the story is told through the years and primarily of an older woman’s life connecting with the present day. Passion, life and so much more weaving in with a world that has changed so much yet stayed entirely the same.
In a way, this approach is very sweet and reminiscent of many stories in the world of literature. Although it wasn’t my cup of tea, there was something in it that made me think that perhaps this tale could be spun into a film and maybe then it would mesh better for me.
Still. There’s something appealing to the format. And as we dive into the past, it flips back and forth between appealing and boring/generic. When it was good, it was damn good, but when it was bad… well, I felt like I needed a nap. I had mixed feelings on it because the words were pretty but the feeling just wasn’t there for me.
Now, due to an impersonal feel here and there it was difficult to connect with the characters as it was the story. This goes without saying. If you can’t get into the plot, if you can’t get into the narration, it’s doubtful you will get into the characters. I had a very hard time investing myself in their lives and while I hoped for the best, I wasn’t all that fussed.
I liked certain bits though. The setting, the love story. I didn’t mind these minor bits and thought they really were sweet and realistic.
As I said, the majority of it simply wasn’t my cup of tea and took a lot of effort to get into which is a massive negative for my taste. I do think that I may be in a small margin of people when it comes to this opinion, though. I don’t think all of her fans will agree with me and I do think that it will be a hit.
My suggestion is to read with caution. The Japanese Lover wasn't the highlight of my year but that doesn't mean much. Curl up by the fire, snuggle in and form your own thoughts on it. Just because it isn’t my taste, doesn’t mean it’s bad or won’t be yours.