Sometimes I like nothing better than to curl up on the sofa in my jogging bottoms and read, don’t you? I was in just that kind of mood on Sunday, so I sat down to read Tokyo Hearts by Renae Lucas-Hall. Somehow time got away with me and , without intending to, I managed to finish reading it in a day, but at just under 200 pages that wasn’t too surprising.
Tokyo Hearts is a love story about sweet, stylish Haruka and university student Takashi. The young Japanese couple enjoy a platonic relationship, meeting up in a cafe once a week, but Takashi dreams of more; that is, until Haruka’s rich ex-boyfriend comes back on the scene.
This is a sweet, chick-lit kind of story that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I think you’d need to be a bit of a Japanophile to want to read it (and to understand some of the cultural references), but if you were too much of a purist you probably wouldn’t like it. I tried to read it for what it was – an entertaining story – without being too snobby.
Renae clearly knows the places she talks about, including tiny details such as train station platform numbers to make the story come to life, but at times this felt a little forced. In the back of my mind the whole time I couldn’t help thinking “this is a story about Japanese people written by an Australian born Brit, and something isn’t quite right”, but I don’t know if that was just because I knew. If I had read the story without knowing about the author, I wonder if I would have known it wasn’t written by a Japanese author? It shouldn’t matter, of course, but I felt a slight lack of authenticity, which I don’t feel when I read translations of Japanese novels, or indeed some other novels by non-Japanese authors.
I don’t mean to be overly critical though – Tokyo Hearts is a nice story, and makes for a good way to pass a Sunday afternoon. It’s what my mum and I would call a “bath book” (i.e. something you can read in the bath without worrying if the pages get wet). It’s not a classic, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. For the few hours I was reading I was entirely transported to Japan and, having visited a lot of the places described, was able to really visualise the story and feel like I was in Japan.
The awkward romance in the story seemed typical of what I know of young Japanese people’s behaviour (and their parents’), and other elements (such as Haruka’s neighbour’s frantic dieting) also seemed to reflect real life in Japan today. I felt the story was a little weaker when it came to describing life as a Japanese teacher inside an English conversation school, but perhaps my perception of this is wrong, as it is of course based only on what I observed in two schools.
Overall, Tokyo Hearts is more mind-softening than mind-blowing, but sometimes that’s what I want from a book. After all, three of my all-time favourite books are probably classed as chick-lit: Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sex and the City and Eat Pray Love. I can’t be too precious about books – stories should entertain the reader, and sometimes that’s enough.
If my words don’t persuade you to give it a chance, perhaps charity will – 10% of the author’s profits from the sale of the paperback of Tokyo Hearts in 2012/13 will be donated to the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.
Visit Renae Lucas-Hall’s website (www.renaelucashall.com) for more information or to purchase a copy of the book (also available from Amazon). You can also read a sample chapter on her website, and find out more about the sequel, Tokyo Dreams, due out in 2014.