Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Typist - Michael Knight


The Typist by Michael Knight was one of the books and authors featured at SIBA. I hadn't heard anything about its premise previously, but almost immediately after walking into the exhibition in Daytona, I was surrounded by buzzing and squealing and fervor over its release and its selection as an OKRA pick. Enough said. I snagged an autographed copy, put it on the top of my pile, and because of its scant 185 pages, read it for the 24 Hour Read-a-thon.

Synopsis: Francis Vancleave (aka Van) joins the army in 1944, and because of his typing skills, is assigned to support General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo. Van leaves a new wife (hastily begotten prior to his departure) and parents stateside, and believes his tour will be uneventful (maybe even boring) and distractedly looks at this adventure as a bump in the road of his life.
Instead, Van finds himself surrounded by a myriad of troubling and memorable events: A roommate who has gotten himself involved with the Japanese underworld, personal involvement with MacArthur and his young son, the realization that his wayward wife is but a stranger to him, and his obsession with two young Japanese women who are victims circumstance. All the while, Van continues to bang away at his keyboard, recording history in the making.

My thoughts: Although I've read dozens of WWII novels, I am always delighted to find one with a unique perspective. And reading about a typist spending his tour in Tokyo is about as unique as it gets. Knight has also gently combined historical fact with a fictional but equally memorable story about the collateral damage of a war far from the battlefield. The characters rattled around in my head for weeks before I could even attempt a review, and even now I'm not so sure I'm going to be able to get my thoughts properly communicated.

Unlike many WWII novels, this one is not overt. The writing, the plot, the characters - everything about the story is subtle. It sort of drifts around you and envelopes you. My heart never raced, my stomach never hurt, my palms never sweated, which is my typical physiological reaction to this genre. It was more haunting and mysterious than violent.

The book is narrated by Van in first person, so many of the characters surrounding him and their actions are up for interpretation. We only have Van's perspective, which at times seems unreliable. At first this was disarming...what did she mean when she spoke those few words in her broken English? I wanted to understand, but some things were never fully explained. Just like in real life, and I found that I was OK with that.

One complaint, however, is that Van seemed distant and cold. With a first-person narrative, you would think we would know him well by the end of the book, but instead I felt locked out. Perhaps this WAS his personality, or a defense mechanism for surviving the war, but I prefer to have more of an emotional investment in my protagonists. Not long ago, I had this same issue with the protagonist Emmett of The Gendarme, an issue which it seemed nobody else had, so now I am wondering if this is a personal problem of mine. I'll get back with you on that one.

I also would have liked more. More detail, more character development, more of everything. I supposed it is possible that would have spoiled some of the magic, but I finished the book wanting.

Despite my picky issues, I think most people would find this a quick, engaging read that leads you down a less-traveled path of WWII historical fiction.

4 out of 5 stars



16 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I'm instantly drawn to books set in Japan, but I don't like the sound of a cold, distant narrator. I don't think I'll read this one.

bermudaonion said...

Michael Knight came to my table during the Moveable Feast and just charmed me, so I was hoping to see you rave about this book. Don't forget to link up to the Okra Picks Challenge.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I am intrigued by your review. It seems that you make some valid points but the book had an impact in spite of them. Sometimes I like having my curiosity piqued in this way even though I too have trouble with really distant narrators.

Melody said...

Sounds interesting! I'm always intrigued with books that have a WWII theme. I might want to check this out! Thanks for the review, Sandy!

Zibilee said...

I also got caught up in the hype for this book at SIBA, and have heard that it is an amazing read. You do bring up some very good points though, and I also wonder if I will feel a sense of detachment to the main character because of the style of the writing.

I am going to be reading this one soon, so I will have to let you know what I think. I do agree that this book is told from a very unusual perspective, so that is something I am looking forward to.

I really loved your review, and the way that you highlighted both the things that worked for you, and the things that didn't.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Interesting. I do like to feel attached to a main character, so I will probably let your review suffice instead of reading it!

marthalama said...

This is the first novel to read from the Okra Picks list I want to read. I'm so glad to hear your review. Now I really can't wait to read it.

Anna said...

You know I'm interested in this one despite your "picky issues." I'll add the link to the WWII book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This sounds like a fascinating book -- I missed the Moveable Feast event, so am totally jealous!

Julie P. said...

SO want to read this esp for Kathy's challenge. Interesting that you mentioned THE GENDARME b/c something didn't seem quite right to me and maybe it was that distance thing.

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

It's no secret that I adored this book (and that I'm nursing a not-so-small crush on Mr. Knight). I think the feeling of distance is intentional. It pulls us into Van's experience while he's literally half a world away from his real life, and it has been changed without his knowledge or consent.

Regardless, glad you liked it for the most part. :)

Nymeth said...

Like you I'll always looking for different and unique perspectives on WWII, so needless to say I love the sound of this!

Jenners said...

This does sound like it has a different WWII perspective.

caite said...

unlike you, I am not a huge fan of WWII books. and then add a distant and cold characters..I don't know, I may skip this one.

Alice Teh said...

I'm waiting to read this book for the Okra Pick Challenge but I know it won't be within this year. It's calling me from my Kindle, though. I picked it because of its story and I love what I read in your review!

Melissa M said...

While I love WWII, I haven't read anything from that time period in a while. Since I don't have much time for reading these days, shorter book appeal to me too. :) Thanks for the great review!