Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 April 2020 from Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Length: 10 hours 57 minutes
Within the Tokyo underworld there is an industry which exists to break up marriages. It is known today as ‘wakaresaseya’ – agents who, for a fee, can be hired by one spouse to seduce the other and provide grounds for divorce on favourable terms.
Inspired by a real case, this is the story of Kaitaro Nakamura, a wakaresaseya agent, who is hired by a man to seduce his wife. Kaitaro falls in love with his target, Rina, and after the divorce she moves in with him, unaware of his role in the demise of her marriage.
Inevitably, however, the truth resurfaces…with tragic consequences.
Stephanie Scott’s book is quietly beautiful and utterly tragic. As the publicity information tells us, it is based on a real case, and Scott’s evident in depth knowledge of the legal issues surrounding the marriage and divorce industry is fascinating.
The novel tracks Sumiko, young woman, as she searches for the truth about her mother, Rina’s life–and what happened to her. Satō is a rather arrogant businessman who has grown tired of his wife, Rina. He hires Kaitarō Nakamura, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with Rina. But Kaitarō, hesitant at first about his task, is so taken with Rina that he finds himself captivated by her and the pair fall in love, united in the beginning through their mutual love of photography. Indeed, it is as if we are viewing this relationship through a lens and soon we will find that the prism of our experience is vastly different to the legal framework and the formal, legal sense of justice that the Japanese practice.
What’s Left of Me Is Yours explores with forensic precision the progress of the affair and its consequences. It is set in two timeframes; the present with Rina’s search for information, and the past where we follow the progress of Rina and Kaitaro’s affair.
Sumiko has recently qualified as a lawyer at the Tokyo Bar, and is expected to join her grandfather’s civil practice dealing with property law. Her search begins when she takes a phone call from the Prison Service about a prisoner named Kaitarō, serving a sentence that is connected to her mother. Sumiko was told that her mother died in a car accident, but now everything that she believed is thrown into doubt and she decides to find out what really happened.
The undoubted success of this novel lies in the fine prose and the nuanced descriptions. Scott perfectly captures the Japanese mores and culture, providing a striking and exquisitely rendered story that could only take place in Japan.
The mental pictures that Scott conjures are beautiful, like fine calligraphy on the most delicate paper and I must commend Hanako Footman for a pitch perfect reading which captures the nuanced writing perfectly and with barely a raised semi tone manages to convey so much tension and emotion in every precise, beautifully modulated, syllable.
What’s Left of Me Is Yours is reminiscent of the best of operatic tragedies. It is a love story that perfectly matches two minds and then compellingly allows that love and mutual passion to founder on the morality of the actions of one, leading to the tragic death of the other.
While this is a love story and something of a mystery, it is also a novel about truth, justice and choices. Kaitaro chooses not to tell Rina who he is. Sumiko must decide what she will do with the information she uncovers and whether her destiny is to join her grandfather in his practice. How she handles what she knows will shape her destiny in a story that is as much about fate, forgiveness and understanding as it is about a love affair gone tragically wrong.
Verdict: Beautiful, haunting and evocative. Stephanie Scott has produced a novel with prose that shimmers and her understanding of Japanese culture and its legal system is superbly displayed. Though the book itself is really captivating, it is only enhanced by Hanako Footman’s excellent reading. A remarkable debut which tackles some big themes. Highly recommended.
Stephanie Scott is a Singaporean and British writer who was born and raised in South East Asia. She read English Literature at the Universities of York and Cambridge and holds an M.St in Creative Writing from Oxford University. Scott was awarded a British Association of Japanese Studies Toshiba Studentship for her anthropological work on What’s Left of Me Is Yours and has been made a member of the British Japanese Law Association as a result of her research. She also won the A.M. Heath Prize, the Jerwood Arvon Prize for Prose Fiction, and was a runner up for the Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award. What’s Left of Me Is Yours is her first novel.