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Not to be Overlooked

By Anna Hall and Jasmine Aldridge

Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of A Restless Truth by Freya Marske and Mild Vertigo by Mieko Kanai.

A Restless Truth by Freya Marske

Review by Anna Hall

The second book in The Last Binding Trilogy, Freya Marske’s A Restless Truth continues the search for the Last Contract. From Edwardian London to the high seas, this time with Maud Blyth, the sister of the young Baronet Robin Blythe who was tossed into the world of magic in the first book of the trilogy. Maud Blyth’s continuous pursuit for her place in the world and her natural affinity for thrusting herself into trouble pushes the story along. On board the White Star Line, Maud’s mission to bring Mrs. Navenby, a member of The Forsythia Club and holder of a piece of The Last Contract, back to London is complicated by the death of the woman she was meant to protect. Now, stuck on board of a ship with a magical object that could change the world of magic, a murderer, and passengers that appeared in her brother’s visions, Maud must find a way to find the piece of The Last Contract without causing suspicion or worse, dying.

A Restless Truth is a whirlwind adventure, with nail-biting moments as the mystery unfolds and more is discovered about the dangerous Last Contract. Maud’s strong-willed and honest nature make her the perfect protagonist to band together her group of misfits. Her personality stands starkly, yet beautifully, next to her partner-in-crime Violet Debenham, an actress who is headed back to England to receive an unexpected inheritance. Maud’s open honesty and naivety both blend and contrast with Violet’s enigmatic personality and her inclination to start scandals.

Marske creates a world of magic so subtly intertwined with reality. The way her characters move throughout the story balancing the limits of their own abilities (magical or otherwise) and an unsuspecting world around them, is written wonderfully. The overarching storyline as well appears in clips throughout the novel, as if you’re given a map with only spots here and there revealed and the rest shadowed. This paired with Marske’s ability to draw readers into the lives specific to this part of the trilogy gives space for excitement about the next in the series. The second book in The Last Binding Trilogy is a fun and exciting read in a series that is building up to be a great debut series for Freya Marske. 

Mild Vertigo by Mieko Kanai 

Review by Jasmine Aldridge 

Mild Vertigo, a 1997 novel by acclaimed Japanese author Mieko Kanai, captures the relentless spiral of normality and the feeling of being trapped in a life beyond your control. The newly published Fitzcarraldo edition uses the sensitive and dynamic translation skills of Polly Barton to beautifully embody the cascading, uninterrupted prose that reflects a mind battling the day-to-day. A thrilling, daring novel for the contemporary world. 

In her Tokyo apartment, housewife Natsumi finds herself trapped in a relentless loop of routine. From the very beginning she is obsessing over the minutiae of apartment decoration and attempting to match the interior to the class status her home promotes. This is a theme set to continue throughout the novel as Natsumi goes through the motions: cooking for her working husband, feeding her two sons, going on trips to the supermarket, doing the laundry, quick time for a bath, cleaning the apartment. Repeat. She begins to wonder if there could be more to her life although the thought also terrifies her; moving beyond the confines of her domestic prison does not guarantee freedom nor happiness. Her Mother tells her as much, arguing that the life of a housewife is the best option for women like her. Both the incessant voice in her head and the voices of those around her tell her that her place had been decided. 

The expertly dynamic and relentless stream of consciousness that commands the novel, forces the reader to reflect on their own frustration with monotony. Natsumi’s chaotic thoughts that chafe at the pages of the book also pressure the reader’s mind to figure out whether they feel the same. Although surrounded by tasks, people and routine, Natsumi remains lonely and lost in her middle-class world where her identity quivers unseen and unheard. 

So, how can a novel about domestic housework that is very concretely settled in middle class Japan be of interest to and enjoyable for contemporary readers? The key is, no matter someone’s background, there are always days where the weight of routine, the seduction of comfort, or the need for exciting change take over and blanket the mind. Now more than ever, be it in housework, jobs, or study, there is a keen sense of being trapped in an endless cycle fuelled by the capitalist agenda. As such, Mild Vertigo remains a novel aptly of the moment, and one whose depth imprints itself on the reader, tangling them in the horror of the everyday.



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