A Separation by Katie Kitamura

A Separation by Katie Kitamura is presented as a mystery (woman goes to Greece to locate her husband, despite the fact that they had separated months before), but is actually a story focused on grief, absences, and our expectations around the longevity of love.

I picked up A Separation after reading Kitamura’s Intimacies, which I particularly enjoyed because the main character worked as a translator, and this provided an interesting perspective on the nuance and intention of words. I was pleased to discover that the main character in this book was also a translator –

Translation is not unlike an act of channeling, you write and you do not write the words.

Furthermore, the missing husband, Christopher, was a translator of a different type – his focus was on the intellectual analysis of music (his visit to Greece was to research the professional ‘mourners’, who sing or wail laments – essentially the mourners agree ‘…to undergo suffering, in the place of others’).

You need to have a great deal of sadness inside you in order to mourn for other people, and not only yourself.

Obviously very unfortunate that Christopher meets his death, while researching that very thing (that’s not a spoiler – it’s revealed early in the book), but it introduces Christopher’s parents into the story, who are not aware that their son’s marriage had broken down. It puts the main character in a tight spot – continue the charade or confess? This question allows Kitamura to explore the parameters of marriage and love –

Every romance requires a backdrop and an audience, even… romance is not something that a couple can be expected to conjure by themselves, you and another, the two of you together, not just once but again and again, love in general is fortified by its context, nourished by the gaze of others.

Her observations are thought-provoking –

It was a terrible thing, to love and not know whether you were loved in return, it led to the worst sensations – jealousy, rage, self-loathing – to all these lesser states.

The story also examines loss from many perspectives – ambiguous loss (the end of her marriage; Christopher’s infidelities); disenfranchised grief (does our main character have a ‘right’ to grieve? Should Christopher’s parents be allowed to grieve ‘the most’?) and the cultural context.

Once you begin to pick at the seams, all deaths are unresolved (against the finality of death itself, there are the waves of uncertainty in its wake) and Christopher’s was no exception.

The main character dwells on the self-serving nature of grief, ‘…which in the end concerns itself not with the dead, but with those who are left behind.’ It highlights the fact that a death in some ways brings resolution, because the dead become fixed, but in other ways is the beginning of questions that will never be answered. And that is what A Separation leaves you with – questions – but not the ones you might expect having read the blurb.

3/5 Well worth a look.

She was eating with relish, unlike my salad, her dish looked delicious, the meat rich and glossy, a lobster claw, partially disemboweled, rose out of the pile of meat and butter like an upraised fist.

No plain old lobster here – try this Greek lobster pasta dish.

6 responses

    • Funny you say that because I passed over an ARC and in the bookshops because I thought it was suspense/ mystery (not my go-to genre).
      I think the disenfranchised grief was illustrated really well, and not something that is stealth with so explicitly in other novels I’ve read where grief is the main theme.

    • I think so too. I’ve read a couple of other novels with a similar theme e.g. gay lover/ex-wife/The Other Woman excluded from family grieving, and these novels show how cruel the situation can be.

  1. I’m unlikely to have picked this up in a bookshop, thinking it would be a run of the mill mystery which the author has tried to make more interesting by setting it in Greece. But clearly it has far more depth than that. One to look out for!

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