Sheldon's Reviews > Netsuke

Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet
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Mar 23, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: fiction, own, first-reads
Read from March 30 to May 22, 2011 — I own a copy

Note: An uncorrected advanced reader's copy was provided to this reviewer by the publisher (Coffee House Press) through the First Reads giveaway.

Netsuke is primarily a character study of several characters. The first is the psychoanalyst who uses his practice to take advantage of several of his clients, many of whom deal with sexual issues. The first thing that become apparent is that the main character has the same issues as many of his clients, that being a sexual addiction and a self-destructive nature, the latter of which manifests through his dropping clues about his infidelities to his wife, Akiko. The main character is only different from his clients in that he has a position of authority over them and uses it to take advantage and indulge in his own sexual desires.

The other main character in the novel is Akiko herself. She is a wife in denial. She clearly knows what her husband is up to, although not necessarily with whom, but she tends to turn a blind eye. There are looks of recognition when her husband drops clues about his infidelity, but then a denial until she is directly confronted with it, such as when he confesses to her about an indiscretion from years before. She simply doesn't want to know, but this denial slowly eats away at her, causing her to start to appear older and worn as the novel progresses.

It's an interesting dynamic in what is a very short novel (only 128 pages; more of a novella), and I would have liked it more, but there are some definite issues with the narrative. First the shifting perspective, primarily a chapter told from the perspective of one of the psychoanalyst's clients (he refers to them as “clients” rather than “patients,” a distinction which becomes important in the novel) felt like it could have been handled better, probably through a longer conversation between the psychoanalyst and said client. The change in perspective is more jarring than I believe was intended, and actually pulled me off the page. What's more jarring is when the perspective shifts from the psychoanalyst's first-person perspective to third-person. I am aware that this is an uncorrected galley copy, so this may be changed in the published novel, but it was extremely jarring and problem, not handled all that artfully, and reminding me that I was reading a book and not watching or living these characters' lives.

The second issue that this novel has is the language used, particularly when it comes to the characters' introspection, of which there is a lot. It felt unnecessarily flowery. Yes, it becomes clear that the psychoanalyst and Akiko are supposed to be part of the more well-to-do societal class, but it reminded me quite a bit of some French novels, such as those by Muriel Barbery, particularly The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Only the subject of this introspection is a lot more base, primarily having to do with sexual desires or the sexual act. Unlike some other reviewers, I was not offended or felt assaulted by the use of the f-word or description of this f-word being carried out.

But be warned: Readers of this novel will need to have a slightly thicker skin.

Again, I felt that I should like this novel more than I did. I'm giving this novel three stars, although I feel it deserves three and a half, but since we can't give half stars on Goodreads, the novel feels like it leans more towards the three star level. While it's an interesting character study in its purest form with a textbook ending (meaning that it's both surprising and expected), there were enough problems threaded throughout the novel that I just couldn't give it a higher recommendation.
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