A Separation by Katie Kitamura published in 2017.
“A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.”
I’m so happy that I can finally separate myself from this book.
It follows a woman on the verge of a divorce with her cocky writer husband, Christopher. After he states that he wants to separate, he leaves on a trip to Gerolimenas, Greece, supposedly to do research on his upcoming book about grieving. Anxious and ready to finalize her breakup with Christopher, she travels to the same hotel as him in order to formally ask for a divorce. When she arrives, she finds that despite still being checked into the hotel, he has not been seen in several days. She decides to wait for him, and during this time, she discovers all the infidelities Christopher has committing during this trip alone. This leads to an endless and frankly cold monologue for a woman who is witnessing the end of her marriage. When she discovers something terrible has happened to Christopher, she struggles in putting up a facade of love in front of his parents who are unaware of their separation. In fact, the main character does a lot of lying throughout the whole book, both to herself and others.
I’ll start by saying that that first 50 or so pages were incredibly slow, and even when it picks up, it’s still not incredibly stimulating. There’s not much going on, both in the physical setting and in the narrator’s mind. It was honestly a struggle to get through at some early points, I was very tempted to just close the book for good. Yet like I said, even when stuff did start happening, I still wasn’t blown away. Don’t get me wrong, it had some moments that interested me, but that’s about it; just moments. Unfortunately, these moments never lasted and always inevitably faded away into the same tedious monologue.
There were so many odd aspects of this novel that just unsettled me. Starting off broad, the general writing style was so formal I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. Instead of a narrative that the reader may put themselves into to experience and live through the main character, it was written like an academic essay. It had little to no contractions and very perplexing language that an average woman would most likely not use in her inner thoughts. I often had to go back and re-read sentences several times, one of my biggest pet peeves while I’m reading. It was hard to enjoy and therefore difficult to relate to any of the characters. Also, on the topic of the characters, you may have noticed I didn’t name the main character in my summary above, and that’s because she was never given a name, in fact. It was a bold move from Kitamura, one that could go one of two ways; mysterious and ambiguous or an empty shell of a character that I couldn’t picture if I tried. Sadly for me, it was the latter.
The last, and most troubling, feature of this book for me personally was the lack of quotation marks. There was dialogue, and it was formatted correctly with indentations and dialogue tags, yet it was like there were no quotation mark keys on the author’s keyboard. I know this is not revolutionary and other authors have done it before, but this is the first book I’ve read that omitted quotation marks. I don’t know why authors choose to do it, all I know is that I don’t like it. It was beyond confusing, as I didn’t know if someone was speaking or if it was still her inner thoughts. Like I said before, I had to go back and read the paragraph again to fully grasp if a conversation was taking place. Quotation marks are an essential part of grammar, especially when trying to piece together a fictional narrative. They were invented for a reason and should be used for that same reason. If I can be docked marks on an assignment for not using quotation marks, a book shouldn’t be allowed to pass the editing stage without them. It’s like not using brackets or semicolons; it’s just grammatically confusing (and just a mess to read in general).
I desperately searched this novel for some redeeming quality I could bring myself to enjoy was some of the literary devices, specifically pathetic fallacy and irony. The main setting we find ourselves in is bombarded with wildfires, and there is a constant description of burn shrubs and blackened crops. There’s even an illustration of a flame on the cover. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that the fire is a reflection of the main character’s own personal hell that she’s currently living. It’s also laughably ironic that the husband came to Greece to study the manifestations of grief, only for the wife to experience the grief of losing her marriage and her husband. I can appreciate these little nuggets of literary flares, it made me feel like I was back in English class. (And yes, I liked English class, why do you think I have a blog about books).
As I said at the beginning of this review, I’m content with separating myself from this book. I don’t think I’ll miss any of the characters and I’m not sitting around wondering where the storyline goes. It was actually quite the disappointment since the synopsis was really promising to me and I was really excited for a well written tense adventure in a foreign land. Unfortunately, all I got was an uptight, confusing narrative about a numb wife aimlessly wandering around a small village in Greece.