Review – Who is Mr Satoshi? by Jonathan Lee

“One afternoon, last October, on the concrete of her patio garden, my mother had a fall”. 

Thus begins our story, narrated by Robert Fossick (Foss), a reclusive figure who has retreated from society since the death of his wife several years before.  Now, his mother’s death sets in motion a modern day quest which leads Foss to Tokyo in search of the mysterious Mr Satoshi who he discovers was his mother’s first love. 

This is Jonathan Lee’s first novel and indeed, it is an impressive debut.  Despite the opening lines reminding me of Camus’s The Outsider and “Today Maman died or maybe yesterday”, it is evident early on that Lee has a distinctive narrative voice and the novel flows with a simple, lyrical style which shows a great empathy for the needs of those on the periphery of what we call “normal” society. 

Considering he has barely left his flat for several years, embarking on this voyage to discover Mr Satoshi and what eventually becomes a journey of self discovery is no easy task for the reclusive Foss.  Through his eyes we see a chaotic, bustling Tokyo but he is fortunate to meet Chiyoko, a young Japanese girl with pink hair and a refreshing outlook on life who takes him under her wing and is both his physical and emotional guide on his journey. 

Another colourful character is Daisuke, the former sumo wrestling Dolly Parton fan who runs a love hotel in downtown Tokyo.  As well as quirky characters, there is a feeling of the hubbub of downtown Tokyo with no street names, crowded subways, all the sights, sounds and smells of this busy metropolis.  One criticism I would have of the writing is that sometimes it feels like a tutorial on Japan and there is more telling than showing – less is more.

So, does Foss succeed in his quest to find the elusive Satoshi?  Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out but ultimately I think it’s more important how Foss copes with life whilst coming to terms with the death of his wife and mother.  The Tokyo scenes reminded me of Lost in Translation, I couldn’t quite picture Foss other than Bill Murray, and at times Bladerunner sprang to mind – the novel is quite cinematic.

All in all, a good start for Mr Lee’s writing career – it’s not perfect but certainly shows a lot of promise for future novels.  Perhaps there is too much effort at times and the artist’s hand occasionally feels slightly forced but it’s an enjoyable novel overall with some splashes of brilliance.

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  1. Iris says:

    This sounds like a good read. I have heard the novel mentioned a lot on twitter and it’s nice to finally read a review of it.

  2. admin says:

    It is a good read, Iris and has reminded me that I must read some Harukami!

  3. Stujallen says:

    hope to get to this soon got it on tbr pile near top looking forward to it ,all the best stu

  4. admin says:

    Stu, it’s actually very readable – I thought it would be more hard going but it actually flows very well.

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