Yoko Tawada’s 2004 novel, translated by the German by Susan Bernofsky. I read a 2009 New Directions Books paperback.
3 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
A Vietnamese student is kidnapped when traveling to Berlin. Escaping to Paris, she drifts from place to place, her life linked by the films of Catherine Deneuve.
The Naked Eye is a difficult book to rate or discuss. It’s extremely hard to separate the narrator from the films she watches. Each chapter is named after a different Catherine Deneuve film and usually in that chapter, the narrator describes parts of the movie as she understood them. As the narrator tells us the events of her own life, we begin to see overlap and parallels. By the end, the two are indistinguishable.
I’m not sure what in this book can be considered “real” and what is in the narrator’s mind and I didn’t enjoy the story enough to read it a second time to parse it out.
Tawada’s writing is incredible, though. It is precise and clear – even if you aren’t sure of the reality of a scene, you know exactly what is going on. I liked the narrator’s voice and I liked the intertwining of Deneuve’s work. But the plot – the heaviest-weighed element for my enjoyment of a book – was disjointed, the narrator’s motivation often hard to follow. She never feels like a real person; she is too naïve, too peculiarly disconnected from her situation. She is oddly ambivalent about being kidnapped and never seeing her family again. Even when she escapes and meets people who could help her return home, she never really considers it. I’m never sure what she wants or what motivates her, other than having enough money to go to the movies every day. She has no genuine emotion or connection to anything; even her love of Deneuve is an obsession oddly lacking passion. Continue reading