Review: Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation

(art by Miho Takeoka)

(art by Miho Takeoka)

For general information on this series: Book Girl entry

This review is for the fifth volume of Book Girl by Mizuki Nomura (with art by Miho Takeoka). The English edition was released by Yen Press in July 2012, and the entirety of the eight-volume series has made it over.

Vol 5 - Book Girl and the Wayfarer's Lamentation

Vol 5 – Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation

It’s been a while since my last Book Girl review! The fifth volume of the series is a very special one though, and might actually be my very favorite of the bunch. The first four volumes each worked nicely as self-contained stories–but at the same time they were all setting the stage for the events of The Wayfarer’s Lamentation. This is finally when a certain character appears, and Konoha–our ever-troubled protagonist–must confront his past head-on.

What an emotional ride this volume is! Every time I read this volume, I have a hard time putting it down. The characters are so wonderfully-developed though, and I find myself drawn to every one of them. These characters have personality flaws, they keep dark secrets, and they have made great mistakes. But I seem to find a little of myself in each one of them, so I can’t bring myself to be upset with their shortcomings. They are struggling to better themselves, but the author has a good understanding of how difficult that can be. If you make a chart of an individual’s progress in life, it’s never going to be a straight line going up. We’re always going to have missteps, and sometimes we fall back to square one. That’s what felt like a major theme of this novel–and also perhaps to the book that serves as part of its inspiration, Kenji Miyazawa’s Night of the Milky Way Railway.

As is the case with all the Book Girl volumes, what stands out to me the most here are the characters. They have such depth to them, and simply feel a lot more human to me than the characters of most other books I’ve read. But perhaps I simply find myself relating to the characters a lot more than other readers would? I especially like the protagonist Konoha, who is so atypical for a protagonist in a YA series (and especially for light novels available in English). I just want to root for him, no matter how much he stumbles.

Regardless, I do find the novel extremely well-written. Mizuki Nomura really has a way with words, and I believe the translator Karen McGillicuddy deserves high praise too. Everything reads smoothly, and the emotion always comes through powerfully. There is also a clear love for literature displayed in these Book Girl stories, and I particularly appreciate how they show the characters relating classic works to their own lives. When I read a book, my experience with the story will be different from the experience you have when you read it.

But my experience with this book was wonderful! I hope more people will find the time to experience it too. Do be sure to read the first four volumes before this one though–the impact of nearly every scene won’t be as strong, otherwise.

Cho’s Rating: Strongly Recommended

4 responses to “Review: Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation

  1. “These characters have personality flaws, they keep dark secrets, and they have made great mistakes… They (the characters) have such depth to them, and simply feel a lot more human to me than the characters of most other books I’ve read. But perhaps I simply find myself relating to the characters a lot more than other readers would?”

    Cho, I know you’re trying to keep these spoiler free, but it really hurts the review if you generalize that much without any detail. An example of why a certainly flaw or secret made you feel relating to the characters would have been nice~
    Given that Book Girl is a soft mystery series, I’ve always found that characters with dark secrets just comes with the genre and they feel, enjoyable but otherwise normal. So I guess I’m trying to figure out what I’m missing out here xP

    • I’ll go into a little more detail here, but will try avoid revealing the plot twists — spoiler warning regardless:

      In this volume, a lot of characters who can be considered friends keep secrets from one another, which I felt illustrated a realistic dilemma: is it better to reveal your shortcomings and risk negative consequences, or to keep it all hidden and maintain the status quo. What does it take to have a genuine relationship? Or a stable one? I find this sort of conflict engaging, and it adds depth to each character.

      I relate to several characters in this story, but I’ll stick with Konoha for now. I think that because he has suffered in a way that is not readily visible to the rest of the world, he is sensitive to the hidden pains of others. But even so, he still ends up hurting his friends, despite having no desire to do so. It’s a lesson of life that doesn’t come up often in fiction — but these things happen. A recurring theme in Book Girl is the notion that positive traits in an individual can be problematic in ways we don’t expect.

      The most fascinating character of this volume though is Miu, and I relate to some of her experiences as well. She found literature as a means of escape from real life troubles, and aspired to be a writer. But then it turned out writing was hard, and she couldn’t write anything at all… And I get all of that. So her despair doesn’t come off as melodramatic to me. I feel that Mizuki Nomura has a strong grasp on writing in general, because she understands fiction is more than just telling a story. Books can have a very strong effect on people — they help us understand each other, and ourselves.

      The volume ends (like previous volumes) with Tohko relating everyone’s circumstances to a work of classic literature, and showing how Miu (and everyone else) can still turn things around. Furthermore, Tohko delves into the classic author Kenji Miyazawa’s life circumstances as well, and that part in particular has really stuck with me. By seeing how Miyazawa was, in a way, reaching out through his book–his labor of love–and sharing a bit of his sad yet hopeful life… Miu is able to see how Konoha was trying to reach out to her through the book he wrote. I love this sort of thing, but I’m also an English major, so I’m weird. ;P

      • I feel that Mizuki Nomura has a strong grasp on writing in general, because she understands fiction is more than just telling a story.

        Well frankly, fiction is all about trying to portray our experiences — and those of others we know — in book form, whether the experience is scientific, analytic, and just life. And it’s that experience, even when portrayed through a fake character, which makes things… interesting to us.

        Konoha’s experience — intending to help but often hurting instead — certainly lines up with many of our own life experiences and is (in my opinion) far more preferable from the ideals-driven plotlines that we see in most LNs =\ After all, real life is about rubbing awkwardly against one another until we find that comfortable spot~

        I strongly suggest adding details like above in your future book reviews. It really does make it that much more meaningful, informative, and just interesting to read!

  2. Thank you so much for your post Cho! Book Girl is easily my favourite light novel series. Always good to be reminded of its greatness, I only wish I was discovering it all over again. I’m so jealous of anyone reading your review and taking a chance, they’re in for a treat.

    And I agree with you, these books stand out for their characters. The author takes them seriously. It can be fun reading the cartoony characters following well-worn character types from other series. But their actions, emotions and behaviour are usually contrived rigidly around the central character, who’s often fairly generic too. But here they are much more satisfying to get to know.

    Maybe it’s time to read these again…

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