Author: Katie Kitamura
Data: Riverhead Books, 240 pages, $25
The premise for “A Separation” by Katie Kitamura could be the kickoff for one of those domestic thrillers where spouses play increasingly violent cat-and-mouse games. The unnamed protagonist/narrator, a literary translator, has been separated from her husband, a writer with family wealth, for six months. She has discreetly moved on, and his constant infidelity from the beginning of their five-year marriage suggests he was never much on board. They have told no one, including his domineering mother, about their parting.
One day, the wife gets a call from her mother-in-law. Christopher, the narrator’s secretly estranged husband, who has been in Greece for research, has disappeared, i.e. he has uncharacteristically dropped all contact with his mother. The protagonist has a choice of either disclosing the separation, essentially saying, “Sorry, not my problem,” or agreeing to travel from her home in London to Greece to look for him. She chooses the latter.
What follows does not gallop off in the direction of cliffhangers, escalating carnage and plot twists. It does have suspense elements, which are handled nicely. Information arrives at a measured pace and, since there is no point of view other than the narrator’s, the reader doesn’t know what another voice might tell. Still, instead of being a conventional crime novel of any stripe, this spare, carefully written psychological tale has the quality of a waking dream. It is ultimately a meditation on attachment, love, death and solitude. This isn’t to say the story is abstract or not involving; it is quite gripping; the reader is curious about the characters, their motivations and fates.
It may be packaged a bit like brain candy, but “A Separation” is more of a nicely plated, portion-controlled cerebral meal.
Anne Payne organizes the Jax Freestyle Book Club for Real Readers at meetup.com.