THE SNOW KIMONO | MARK HENSHAW | BOOK REVIEW

THE SNOW KIMONO is the NSW Premier’s Award Winning novel (2015) by Australian literary great, Mark Henshaw. The book was rejected thirty-two times before finding a publisher and then winning the Premier’s award (Christina Stead Prize for Fiction). Henshaw had the biggest selling Australian piece of literature of the 80s, his award winning OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE (1988), and then he spent many years curating at the National Gallery of Australia without publishing. He went back into full time writing with THE SNOW KIMONO. Kernel Fiona hit this one up and she loved it, it released last August from the fine folks at Text Publishing, it’s available at all good bookstores or you can buy it HERE……all the best…..JK.

 

the snow kimono book cover image
THE SNOW KIMONO | MARK HENSHAW | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER ARTWORK

 

BY FIONA FYFE 

The literary scene had not heard from Mark Henshaw since his highly acclaimed OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE was published in 1988. His second novel, THE SNOW KIMONO, published in late 2014 has been aptly described by the Sydney Morning Herald as a “thriller of the intellect” – a description that fittingly depicts this beautifully written, evocative work.

Beginning in Paris in 1989, we are introduced to Inspector Auguste Jovert, a retired police commissioner. Jovert led the French Special Operations Branch in Algiers in the 1950’s, investigating terrorism. Now some forty years later he receives a letter from a woman who claims to be his daughter. He is unsettled by this news and grapples with the decision of whether or not he should return to Algiers to meet her.

In the same apartment block, lives retired Law Professor Tadashi Omura who inexplicably comes knocking at Jovert’s door one afternoon. A tentative friendship is established. Trading stories and the history of their lives, the two men develop an unexpected bond as they traverse the past over a series of long nights.

Tadashi’s past is inextricably linked to his childhood friend, writer Katsuo Ikeda – a mysterious shape shifter and criminal whose most successful book is appropriately titled The Chameleon. Katsuo is an unreliable rake who humiliates one of his professors at University and then places himself into voluntary exile for five years. When he eventually contacts his long suffering friend, Tadashi, a series of events ensue that will tragically link the two men forever.

 

mark henshaw image by andrew meares
THE SNOW KIMONO | MARK HENSHAW | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | AUTHOR IMAGE – PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREW MEARES

 

Ruthless and selfish, Katsuo is not above borrowing his friend’s name for the purposes of seduction or advancement. He has no qualms in passing himself off as a lawyer by the name of Tadashi Omura if it means he gets the girl or impresses his peers. When he hears that Professor Todo whom he disgraced at University has probably killed himself, his reaction is one of scorn and derision, labelling the unfortunate man a fool.

Katsuo does not realise the depth nor does he understand the great love Todo had for him and how he had regarded Katsuo as a son. He is seemingly oblivious or perhaps in denial about how his own family history is linked to the bombing of Hiroshima. Leaving a trail of heart break and misery in his wake, somehow Katsuo always manages to rise like a phoenix. He is a survivor in the truest sense of the word. Notwithstanding his unsympathetic and often unkind approach to those closest to him, it is difficult not to be entranced by this character.

Katsuo is the bad guy that your mother warned you about. He is the friend most likely to send you to hell in a hand basket and yet it is almost impossible not to be intrigued and perhaps a little romanced by this superficial con artist. While you know any dealings with him will not end well, with reckless fascination, you are hopelessly drawn to him.

The book is divided into eight parts and told mostly by Tadashi through an examination of various characters, mostly female. Relationships in this book are transitory and fragile yet all form part of a larger puzzle. Similar to the idea of six degrees of separation, Henshaw deftly weaves a myriad of characters in and out of the plot until the haunting conclusion when most of the mystery becomes clear.

 

the snow kimono book cover image
THE SNOW KIMONO | MARK HENSHAW | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER ARTWORK

 

It is undeniable that Tadashi and his sometimes friend Katsuo, have a great impact on Jovert. The retired police Inspector is a man who has an extraordinary ability to empathise with others and understand their pain. Almost as if he has lived it himself. He deduces that he feels a part of other people’s histories because he has attended so many crime scenes and stood in “the exact place where someone had died some brutal and unnecessary death. And had there not been a smaller, more mundane voice of history still quietly sobbing there?”

Journeying back to Tadashi’s past by listening to his stories, Jovert comes to feel that he has been “inhabited by him, by what he was telling me. And it all seemed somehow connected. Not just to him. But to me as well. What strange metamorphosis was this? Why was his heart aching?”

The themes of betrayal, loss, memory, suicide, displacement, depression and parental ties or what it means to be a parent, run deeply through this book. So too a sense of melancholy and loneliness and the pain of separation from those we hold dear. Henshaw does a meaningful job of mesmerising the reader with his beautiful descriptions and important insights into the human condition while at the same time leading us down passageways until we realise we have read our way into a complex, emotional labyrinth.

It is difficult to fathom why this book was rejected third two times before it was eventually published. It recently won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and deservingly so. The characters and the prose will remain with you long after you have finished the book. A triumph.

 

4 and a Half Pops