The Teahouse Fire

The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery

RATING: ★★★ (2.75 / 5)

This novel is interesting for its detailed and immersive look at  turning points in Japan’s culture as it alternately opens and closes itself to Western influence, however, I found Avery’s writing style difficult to ‘get into’, in other words: I wanted to like it, but overall it left me feeling little connection with the characters.

Avery seems to struggle with balancing the overarching historical development with the personal development of characters; what the reader is left with is a stultified plot. I say this as someone who loves a good historical novel– I think A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’ serves as a good comparison. In her novel, Byatt also covers a long spread of time, has a large and intertwined cast of characters, and has involved descriptions of socio-political developments, as well as artistic movements, yet, still manages to flesh out each character and move the story along with beautiful prose. Somewhere amidst her lecturing explanations of traditions, linguistics, etc. Avery loses sight of her characters. Perhaps it could have benefitted from a third-person, rather than first-person, narrator?

Also, Aurelie/Ura’s sexuality seemed something of an afterthought, neither central or coincidental, just awkward. A more detailed look at the Japanese reactions to same-sex relations would have been interesting; for instance, even Aurelie/Ura’s own reflection on her sexuality was blatantly absent.

Topics in this novel are left frustratingly untouched while others are beaten to death; yet again Balance, Avery! Balance! Left feeling let-down.

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