A Diary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton
LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2016
A BBC RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB PICK
'Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Piano Teacher, in the best way.' InStyle
Amaterasu Takahashi has spent her life grieving for her daughter Yuko and grandson Hideo, who were victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.
Now a widow living in America, she believes that one man was responsible for her loss; a local doctor who caused an irreparable rift between mother and daughter.
When a man claiming to be Hideo arrives on her doorstep, she is forced to revisit the past; the hurt and humiliation of her early life, the intoxication of a first romance and the realisation that if she had loved her daughter in a different way, she might still be alive today.
What I Thought:
I’ve been waiting to find a book that would have me gripped from page one until the very end and A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding was the one that did it for me. Finally I can dust off that fifth star and award Copleton’s heartfelt novel a meaty five stars.
I have to admit, from the first page I wondered how Copleton would turn the simple premise of a scarred man arriving at an old woman’s door out of the blue, claiming to be her long lost grandson, would pan out and if I would care whether he was or not. But that’s because I’ve read a few books in a row that have had a flat plot when the story promised so much.
This is an intriguing story and Copleton did not let me down with a plot that was simple but realistic and compelling at the same time.
I was sold on her use of language more than anything. She was not afraid to use ‘flowery’ language in her descriptions and even in dialogue. I believed everything the characters said and on several occasions could see this book as a film because it came at you and didn’t stop delivering.
I enjoyed the movement in time. I was only a little confused when Amaterasu ‘spoke’ on her daughters behalf through a diary, but I only had to be as sharp as the writer when this happened and got used to the change of voice very quickly.
Copleton, by all accounts, seemed to be well equipped to write this story given her life experiences. You would find it hard not to imagine that she was an ageing Japanese survivor of an atomic bomb because she spoke with such a convincing tone on an obviously well researched subject. But at no time did this story ever sound like a history book as some writers of historical fiction can do at times. Copleton knows her stuff and she knows how to write good fiction.
I was moved to tears towards the end of the novel and once I’d finished I wondered if this book had been nominated for any kind of literary prize. Checking back I saw it had been longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 – and it’s not surprising.
So if you’re looking for a book with characters that were fully formed, dialogue that sings from the page, tension and drama in all the right amounts, then you’ll find it in A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding.
This book is published in July but available to order on Amazon.