Light Novel: Book Girl and the Famished Spirit (English)

February 7th, 2011

Book Girl and the Famished SpiritHaving talked yesterday about Light Novels, I felt it was most appropriate today to discuss Yen Press’s edition of Book Girl and The Famished Spirit, the second of the Bungaku Shoujo Light Novel series. I reviewed the first in the series, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime over at David Welsh’s Manga Curmudgeon. For the tl;dr crowd – it was fantastic. A truly compelling read. You should seriously run out and get it right away. Get extra copies for your library and friends.

Book Girl and the Famished Spirit, follows the same formula as the first. Konoha is a high school second-year student who carries the baggage of two life-altering episodes. A girl he loved deeply killed herself while he stood there, unable to do anything to stop her. And he wrote a novel that was an award winning best-seller – only, he wrote it under the name of the girl he loved and as a result can tell no one. The subsequent nervous breakdown from the pressure of being famous (but not really) turned him into a recluse. Konoha has managed to pull himself back into society, but is still prone to panic attacks. And he still writes. Only this time, he confines his writing to short stories, “snacks” for his book-eating Book Club president, Tohko.

While Konoha fills Tohko’s appetite for stories, Tohko has set up a post box on the school campus to feed her desire for adventure. In this second novel, the genre is “horror” as a ghost leaves mysterious and desperate messages, which leads them to encounter a horribly skinny girl Hotaru, her “ghost” Kayano and the gothic horror romance that drives their story.

These novels are rated for 15+ and where I felt that the first book could easily be enjoyed by a precocious younger reader, I strongly feel that the age rating is justified for this book. This is not a light Light Novel. Creeping psychological horror fills most of the second half. To some extent the ending is actually a cop-out, to which I can only say, thank heavens! The alternative would have been quite appalling.

Each one of the Book Girl Light Novels is steeped in the idea of “Books.” A book – a classic of literature, whether Japanese or Western – runs through and intertwines with the plot of the story, almost as another character. Anyone even remotely familiar with the “book” will immediately gain hints as to the backstory of the plot, but Nomura doesn’t make it that easy, even if you have read “the book.” She throws book McGuffins into the plot, pointing you in the direction of Agatha Christie or Souseki Natsume, before she reveals the *real* book behind the book. In some ways, her unnatural attention to books leads me to believe that this series is an elaborate prank to make teens want to read literature they’d probably have to read for school, anyway. And it works, too! I’m dying to read every last reference in this series.

I say the books are steeped in the idea of “Books” – you’ll note that I do not say “Writing.” Despite Konoha’s brush with fame and his duty to his President, we learn nothing about how he writes, and only barely anything about what he writes. This is a book for readers, not writers.

Since I am reviewing this book here on Okazu, you must realize by now that there is at least *some* smidgen of Yuri.

Most of the romantic tension in this series is decidedly heterosexual. Konoha does not “like” Tohko, but is sometimes aware of her as a girl, as opposed to just a weird-ass person. The romances (such as they are) in both this book and the first are likewise straight. And there’s a girl who likes Konoha, but shows it by glaring. However.

We are introduced in the first book to the Granddaughter of the school chairman, the obscenely rich, highly connected, ridiculously smart and talented, Maki. Maki wants to be a painter, but her school is renowned for their orchestra. Her grandfather insists, therefore, that she conduct. She agreed on one condition – that she also gets a private painting studio. So, when we meet Maki, she is painting. Art seems to be her first love. Her desire for Tohko to pose nude could be just a tease, but there was some quality about her relationship with Tohko – beyond the teasing and the fact that she fit all the criteria (better looking, smarter, talented) for a Yuri character – that made my Yuri sense tingle. In this second volume, we learn the truth of her feelings for Tohko. I won’t give any of it away, but let’s just say that my Yuri sense was not wrong.

Technically speaking, I think the translation is excellent – by which I mean that I forgot I was reading a translated book – with one exception. They tried *just* a bit too hard with Ryuto. But it was otherwise seamless and for that, I offer a nod of appreciation to Yen’s staff. I don’t have the original to compare the reproduction to, but don’t very much care what was changed – this was a book about reading for readers that made an excellent read. That pretty much hits all my buttons just the right way.

Ratings:

Art – 6 Cute, but too light and airy for this novel
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Yuri – 4
Service – 1

Overall – 9

Book Girl and the Famished Spirit is not a gentle book. It is waves in a storm crashing on the rocks, salty and cold. It tastes of dark, dark, bittersweet chocolate.

I absolutely loved this book.

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6 Responses

  1. Martin says:

    I don’t want to spoil the novels, but you got something in your summary wrong (I made the same mistake when reading the novels the first time). You will realize what I mean when reading the next novel.

  2. @Martin – Pointing out that I got something wrong because in a future book the author adds in different facts is, in fact, a spoiler.

    The whole story about Konoha and Miu is pretty obvious. I chose not to address it until the story itself addresses it.

  3. Eric P. says:

    I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of it, but thanks to your review of the first book I decided to check it out, and it indeed made for good reading. So definitely looking forward to the next book!

    I don’t know if this was touched on, but–Is Tohko not human? If her literal book-eating habits weren’t enough of a sign.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “I don’t know if this was touched on, but–Is Tohko not human? If her literal book-eating habits weren’t enough of a sign.”

    I dunno, IRL people eat all sorts of things.

    There’s a condition called pica that gives some of ’em the urge: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002505 says “Pica is a pattern of eating non-food materials (such as dirt or paper)…” and paper’s a major ingredient in most books! (don’t ask me why that page puts ice on the list of non-food though; there are ice cubes in my drink right now!).

    Then there was that poor guy who survived being forced to eat his own beard: http://frothygirlz.com/2010/11/18/the-man-who-ate-his-own-beard/comment-page-1/#comment-14398 (and the comments correct some of the post) Out of 7 billion of us, I’m sure someone *else* out there is eating *his* (or maybe her, facial hair growth in women and adolescent girls too is actually relatively common in some ethnicities) own beard on purpose.

  5. This is such a nice summary of the story, definitely sounds like something worth reading.

    Thanks for it!!!

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