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The importance of keeping it simple

Another surprising trip to the Far East

Even though I can’t say I’m an expert, not at all, I have to say Japanese culture fascinates me. It’s a fascination that I have for things that are so much different from what I’m used to, and I have to say that I envy the sense of peace and wisdom I usually associate with Japan. All those pictures portraying cherry blossoms with a sight on Mount Fuji in the distance, or some temple close to a pool of water just fascinate me and make Japan one of the top spots in my “Places to go” list.

This is why, when I was asked to read and review The secret garden of Yanagi Inn by Amber Logan, I couldn’t say no. A gothic mystery set in Japan, this is what I was told to expect, and thus there was only one possible answer for me. I have to say that the book wasn’t like I expected it to be, both from the premise and from the first few chapters, but I still loved it.

In the following I’ll try my best to convince you that you have to read it without getting into too much detail, because it’s a new release (it’s coming on October 22nd). The plot in itself isn’t the best part of the book if you ask me, the theme and the feelings it stirs make it pale in comparison, but still it’s not my place to give it away.*

It’s the story of Marianne Lennox, a young woman in a very difficult moment of her life: her mum has just died and her relationship with her boyfriend is going nowhere. She is proposed with a grant to photograph the garden of a hotel in Japan, and she accepts on a whim. She grew up in Japan, after all, and the few scattered memories she has of her time over there are good. Plus, she really needs some time away from Chicago.

With such a premise, I was expecting a sort of The Shining set in the Far East, and I was intrigued. One of the questions I find myself asking to myself lately is how the cultural context of a story influences it, or better, how the execution of a story given its premise changes based on the culture of the storyteller. And as much as there clearly were a few elements of mystery and creepiness of The Shining, the story ended up taking a different turn halfway through the book.

The regret and the grief that Marianne is feeling intertwine and mix with the somber atmosphere at Yanagi Inn. As the days go by, Marianne finds a way to give herself and her visit a purpose though her work: she definitely needed to take some matter in her own hands to drop a bit of her baggage. The fact that the inexplicable things she found out at the beginning of her stay tend to fade away for the most part when she gets busy, and I loved how well it meshed with the theme of the book. I read it as a kind of advice, because having some kind of objective can be helpful in giving people a reason to get out of their shell.

It helps, but it’s not enough. Together with a sense of accomplishment, Mari begins to feel some kind of deja-vu in the hotel’s gardens. She doesn’t realise it until the end, when she finally faces her ghost, and she finally remembers. All the pieces fall back in their place, and Mari understands the real reason why she was called to Japan, and why she couldn’t say no.

The resolution of the conflict is breathtaking to say the least. And I don’t care if it’s the kind of ending I tend to deem as “too perfect”, or if the story was a retelling of an old one, but t was such a soul-soothing read that I can’t really say anything bad about it.

It was presented to me as a ghost story, a present-day one with a twist of gothic, but I found out it was more than that. It was a beautifully told story about grief and the importance of letting go. The ghosts and the gothic elements served this purpose rather than just being a device for jump scares.

The metaphor of the garden going from unkept and abandoned to tidy and curated is quite a classic, but it was very well executed. It’s hard to find many words to say about it without circling around the theme of the book, and maybe it’s just another lesson we can learn from it: the importance of the small things in life and keeping it simple.

*Only halfway through it I found out that it’s a retelling of “The Secret Garden” from Frances Burnett, but this didn’t change my resolution to try and stay vague about the plot.

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