“Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa” one of those “did she or didn’t she” novels which leaves the reader wondering if what supposedly transpired in the story actually did so.
In the latter third of this novel, one of the characters, Beatrice, voices some of the frustration the reader may be feeling about how this story has been developed. In reference to what the final outcome may be, she notes that “you rarely get all the answers you need, and that there probably won’t be any satisfactory resolution to all this”. Beatrice pretty much hit the nail on the head here!
Perhaps the simplest way of summarizing this rather odd tale that unfolds in Paris and New York City is that it is a treasure hunt which reveals the character of the title character, Tomomi Ishikawa or Butterfly. Ostensibly, this young woman has died but she has left behind a series of cryptic letters that direct her friend, Ben Constable, to a series of hiding places where he will find notebooks that shed light on Butterfly’s past.
Yes, the author uses his own name to identify the main character, which, in itself, raises some curious questions. Is this autobiographical, pure fantasy or does the narrative fall some place in between?
With the discovery of each notebook Ben discovers that this Japanese young woman has quite a past since her journals reveal she has killed quite a few people. Or has she?
The posthumous messages are eventually augmented by emails from a mysterious sender who seems to know a good deal about Ben and his quest for the next installment in the unfolding saga of what may, in fact, be a serial killer.
Fairly early on in the treasure hunt Ben casually remarks that Butterfly was a storyteller but that didn’t mean that the stories were true. He continues, “Her anecdotes had always been like games, exaggerated and extreme.” Obviously that observation stays with the reader and muddies the startling revelations that flow from Butterfly’s journals.
Since Ben is the principal narrator of this bizarre tale and his point of view dominates the telling of the story, we tend to forget Ben has a few quirks of his own. Why would any sane person become involved in such an odd activity and go to such lengths to see it through? Ben makes it clear he and Butterfly were not romantically involved and were basically just casual friends.
Then there’s the issue of the imaginary cat that pops up throughout the story that only Ben can see. That perhaps should make us wonder about this narrator’s stability.
Also, when you discover, almost at the end of this story, that Ben suffers from prosopagnosia, you certainly have a right to think the author hasn’t been playing fair !
Although this may seem like a deeply flawed novel and not worth reading, that really isn’t the case. There are enough surprises and quirky events and characters to hold one’s interest. And you’ll probably agree that both Ben and Butterfly are two of the strangest characters you have ever come across. That being said, you’ll also discover their haunting story is one you won’t soon forget either.
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.