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Why aren’t Brontë biscuits sister shaped? : The questions of Yuki Chan

Yuki ChanBack in 2010 I had been captivated by Mick Jackson’s The Widow’s Tale, so I was delighted to have the chance to read Yuki Chan in Brontë Country, kindly offered as an ARC from the publisher, Faber and Faber, via NetGalley.

In some ways there are similarities in the territory of both books. The subject is bereavement, and how we can ever come to terms with it, and accommodate the huge gap that losing someone close leaves behind.

In the Widow’s Tale, Jackson wonderfully gave voice to a particular middle aged woman, and impressed me enormously, managing to be wonderfully funny about how grief can manifest, whilst at the very same time, being heart-breaking. I believe there is a kind of derangement which takes place in our normal way of perceiving the world, in loss, and finding ourselves in that place, being prepared to inhabit it, however odd it is to the outside eye, is the way in which in the end we might be able to move to a healed place.

In Yuki Chan, Jackson is jumping across several divides – not only, as a male writer, getting inside the head, heart, body of a female – but, in this case a young female, student aged. And moreover one from a very different culture – Japan. It’s a tribute to Jackson that all this is managed, and the reader both experiences the specific oddness of Yuki Chan at this difficult time in her life, following her mother’s death, and the oddness of her culture, to a Westerner, whilst at the same time enabling us to see the oddness of our own culture, through Japanese experience. Like The Widow’s Tale, this is a very very funny book indeed, and also a lacerating one. The humour prevents over-indulgent sentimentality but the willingness to enter into laceration acknowledges the real pain of loss.

Statue of Brontë sisters, Haworth Parsonage

Statue of Brontë sisters, Haworth Parsonage

There is some mystery which Yuki needs to understand, connected with her mother, which has led her to make an unlikely visit to Haworth, and Brontë country, as part of an eager coach trip of voluble elderly Japanese ladies, all big Brontë fans. Yuki has come to the UK on a short trip to see her bossy older sister, but really, to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She wants to understand why, for example, some years ago her mother came to Haworth and did the Brontë tour.

Yuki is a fashion student, but she just might be interested in designing underground airport terminals. Or she might just become an astronaut, or at least someone who designs clothing for astronauts.

The basic design would have to be clean and simple. No collars or cuffs which might get caught on important levers. Plus it would be good to avoid beige, which has long been a cliché in casual spacewear. You could have a different outfit for each day. That way, when you look around and see how everyone’s wearing blue with yellow trim you know it must be Wednesday. Or if everyone’s in a pink jumpsuit with a Fifties V-neck you know that it’s Friday and there’s only one more day to go

She is bemused by Britain – and why not ? Why, for example are the Brontë biscuits she buys in Haworth just, well, biscuits? What is Brontë about them – surely they should have been Brontë sister shaped, at least? Her fertile imagination can take her into all sorts of strange and interesting territory. Some of this gets written down in her notebooks, ideas for designs :

…platform boots with secret compartments….various unusual haircuts…a woman’s hair is swept up into a towering beehive, with a miniature camera hidden in it. Yuki explains that it’s for a project in which she secretly photographs people’s reactions to her own spectacular haircut

Jackson’s novel slowly gets darker, as we get deeper into Yuki’s journey

Bronte biscuits

I had some reservations, not about Yuki herself, who was believable, weird, absorbing, or her journey. My reservations were with the friend she needs to encounter in order for her journey to be able to properly proceed and conclude. As a foreigner in a strange land whose English is a little challenging, she needs a local. Enter Denny, a strange young woman, resident in Haworth. Denny’s anarchic nature, not to mention a whole section on the moors connected with a dog felt a little too plot driven to satisfy me. Plots must of course happen, but it was Denny, feeling like a device for me, who pulled the book back from 5 star to 4.

Reading is always personal in taste; I note some other reviews felt the book became more enjoyable for Denny’s entrance.Mick-Jackson-002

The Kindle edition will be published in the UK on the 19th January, and on the 21st in wood book. It looks like Statesiders wanting wood will have to wait till April, or order from the UK, though it also will appear on Kindle on the 19th January

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country Amazon UK
Yuki Chan in Brontë Country Amazon USA