Review – Mitch Davies’s The Inn of Fallen Leaves
There are some times in a reviewer’s life when terrible flashbacks occur and this one of those occasions. I never ‘got’ the whole Samurai genre, I don’t collect Pokemon, and Manga is not for me. The only thing Japanese I appreciate is the laptop I am writing this on. All my friends growing up were wanting to be Samurai or a Ninja, I wanted to be President of The United States, despite my Englishness, but I tried to follow my friends lead and still have nightmares of trying to get through Shogun by James Clavell or getting my head around Eric Van Lustbader. But I made a commitment to review what I was sent and to try new things, so here goes.
In a Japan run by a government losing its grip on the power it has held for over 250 years, is there still a place for loyalty to a clan, or are the lives of individuals more important? This is the question that is explored in The Inn of Fallen Leaves, a question that still resonates today in many countries throughout the world. Chobei is a disillusioned samurai who, after being forced by his clan to perform atrocities, works as a yojimbo and handyman for a second-tier inn along the Nakasendo Highway. Akiyama is a samurai who wants to maintain the honour of remaining loyal to a clan that no longer wants him. A beautiful woman, Miyo, is attached to one man, but coveted by the other. When Japan is thrown into chaos after the assassination of its Regent, Cho’s world transforms into a state of confusion and loss, resulting in a battle of wits and egos between the two men, with Miyo caught in the middle. Cho must pursue Akiyama in order to expose the actions of the samurai and his clan, and to find the woman he loves, but has lost
Firstly, no cold shakes, no sleepless nights! Mitch Davies knows how to write a book. If you were a slightly more educated man than myself then I imagine the story’s pace would be flawless, however, not knowing anything about the subject matter or use of terms and language, I found myself flicking to the back of the book where an appendix of explanations could be found. This wouldn’t be that disruptive in a paper copy of the book but in the electronic format I had it made life difficult. This is not a criticism of the author. I understand there is a huge market, waiting expectantly for a novel like this, but as an introduction to the genre I would suggest starting with something easier if you can’t find a paper copy. The tale itself, if you transcribe it to something more comfortable in your mind, something more understandable, performs well. Davies narrative is exceptional. Had this been a book set in the West with soldiers, or gang members it would be very high on my must read list, so the score is more a reflection of my poor understanding of the genre than author ability. If Mitch Davies has a novel out that is not Japanese based I would snatch it up in an instant, but The Inn of Fallen Leaves was just slightly too far above my comprehension level.
That said, the appendix I mention above is a delight. The political structure of Japan and its climate politically were an essential read. The history of the different clans, the Battle of Sekigahara, and a full glossary of the terms used in The Inn of Fallen Leaves should actually be reworked into a book on non-fiction aimed at readers like me, as an introduction to Japanese cultural and the whole Samurai genre. If Mitch Davies ever considers this option I would like my name at the top of that reviewers list. I may even be able to get through those horrid books of my youth with Davies as my educator.
**** 4 STARS!