Review: Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable


ThreeLivesThree Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable (Gallery Books, 2013)


Blurb: What writer Benjamin Constable needs is a real-life adventure wilder than his rampant imagination. And who better to shake up his comfortable Englishman-in-Paris routine than the enigmatic Tomomi “Butterfly” Ishikawa, who has just sent a cryptic suicide note? She’s planted a slew of clues—in the pages of her journal, on the hard drive of her computer, tucked away in public places, under flowerpots, and behind statues. Heartbroken, confused, and accompanied by an imaginary cat, Ben embarks upon a scavenger hunt leading to charming and unexpected spaces, from the hidden alleys of Paris to the cobblestone streets of New York City.


But Butterfly’s posthumous messages are surprisingly well informed for the words of a dead person, and they’re full of confessions of a past darkened by insanity, betrayal, and murder. The treasures Ben is unearthing are installments of a gruesome memoir. Now he must draw a clear line between the real and surreal if he is to save himself, Butterfly, and what remains of their crazy and amazing friendship.


Benjamin Constable is an outsider. He’s British but lives in Paris, and he has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. Even his friends appear to him as strangers. His closest friend is Tomomi Ishikawa, whom everyone calls “Butterfly.” As the story begins, she sends him a letter informing him of her suicide. The end of their relationship becomes its beginning as a series of cryptic clues leads him to her journals, which chronicle a series of deaths—murders?—that may or may not have happened but that tell Butterfly’s story.

This is a book that is full of contradictions. Butterfly seems to be both dead and not dead, and Ben passively accepts the news that Butterfly has died yet doggedly pursues every clue and instruction she sends him. Butterfly’s life is all about death. Benjamin Constable is both the author and a character—so who is the narrator? The line between reality and fantasy is crossed, again and again, in this novel, or maybe it isn’t. I’m not entirely certain. It’s all very confusing, and at the same time compelling; I couldn’t stop reading.


This ARC was furnished by Gallery Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


My rating: 3 stars


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