Eve Gil: Tinta violeta: Sho-shan segunda temporada [Violet Ink: Sho-shan second season]
Any novel that starts off They murdered Mummy is going to get your attention and this one certainly does. Our narrator is Luisa Monsalve. She is coming up fifteen (her mother was murdered nine years previously). She seems to be Mexican but lives with her grandparents in the United States, in Santa Barbara. She has Asperger’s Syndrome. As she says, the people to talk to about this are what she calls aspies, i.e. people who have it, rather than medical professionals. As she points out, nearly all aspies are male so it is unusual for a female to have it. She suffers for it, as she is teased at school. She has two interests in life: sewing and insects. She has a sister, Violeta, though admits she does not really know her sister’s name.
After her mother’s murder, her father became seriously depressed and decided to go off to Japan with Violeta. Violeta is not, in fact, his biological child. Though Luisa and Violeta had the same mother, their fathers are different. Because he was so depressed, he felt that he could not cope with a child with Asperger’s, so she was left with her grandparents, who have treated her well. Violeta has adopted the Japanese name Murasaki and she has written a manga/anime called Sho-shan Z which has been very successful worldwide. Luisa cannot stand mangas, finding them too violent, nor does she like TV. She is later told that she is the only person who does not know what the Sho-shan Z anime is about. The two sisters have not really been in touch. Luisa does not do social media, email, etc so contact with Violeta/Murasaki is through her grandfather, who does all these things. Despite her success, Violeta has not visited her sister, apparently because her manga contract forbids her from flying.
Luisa has had one other traumatic event in her life. When she was still very young, she was at school with a boy called Toto. She saw the fearsome Games Room Lady approaching. To protect Toto, she hugged him, he moved around a bit and then he stopped moving around. He had died. She was, of course, blamed for his death and had to stay at home, inside the house. Her mother supported her. An autopsy showed that his mother had overmedicated him and that, as a result, his heart stopped when he received a shock. Like me, she suffered from a syndrome with a German name, though even rarer, presumably Munchausen syndrome by proxy. She feels that there may be some link between Otto’s death and her mother’s murder.
The novel takes the form of her journal, which she has just started and which she is determined no-one else shall see and in which she recounts the above. However, this summer, Murasaki has invited her to Japan and off she goes with Plácida, her nanny. They are met at the airport by the brother of Murasaki’s boyfriend, Kotaro Bando.
Meanwhile, interspersed with Luisa’s diary entries, we get what appears to be excerpts from Murasaki’s manga/anime. Fujita seems to be some sort of spy, fighting the good fight against the forces of evil. Fujita has a daughter called Danae, who was also fighting the good fight. He has not seen her for years and, though hoping that she was still alive, was assuming that she was killed when in China. Namie, however, has popped up to say that she was not killed in China but was rescued by a doctor and essentially retired to Mexico. She had two daughters. One day, one of her daughters accidentally killed a boy in the school and, in revenge, the boy’s father killed Danae. Obviously, the similarity with Luisa and her mother is clear. Namie has managed to obtains one of Danae’s hairs and proposes to Fujita that Danae can be reconstituted from her DNA. While we assume that this story is Violeta’s manga/anime, there is one key character missing, the eponymous Sho-chan. In Violeta’a manga/anime, Sho-Chan, as we learn is based, at least in part, on Luisa, whose Japanese name is Cho (it means butterfly).
Back in Japan, Lusia is waiting to meet her sister but various people contact her to tell her that her sister has been detained, working on a key part of the anime. We meet various people involved with Violeta, including, in particular, Mr. Kunikida, who is the head of the TV station where Violeta’s anime is shown and who has Violeta under a tight contract. Indeed, he shows himself to be very controlling and not just with Violeta. Eventually, she turns up after six days, full of apologies but, by this time, Luisa has had enough and wants to go home, saying that she will go the Mexican Embassy to ask for political asylum.
The manga story we are following becomes more sinister. Fujita, the man in charge and father of Danae seems to be working for the Kempeitai, the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo, which was disbanded after World War II, but seems to be still active, carrying out various dirty deeds. When we learn that Fujita is after Luisa and Violeta, we realise that this is not Violeta’s anime but is actually happening. Soon Fujita’s adapted son, Roppeito, and Namie manage to insinuate themselves with Luisa and Violeta at Kamakura, where Mr. Kunikida has taken them for some relaxation and rest. The situation is made even more complicated when Luisa befriends Nina, a young Czech woman, who is in Japan with her mother, as the mother wants to keep Nina away from her boyfriend. He inevitably follows her to Japan.
Eve Gil’s youngest daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome, so it is clear that Luisa is based, in part at least, on her. A good part of this book is about ow those with Asperger’s Syndrome view the world, compared with how those who do not have it view the world, as well as how those with Asperger’s Syndrome are viewed by people who do not have it. Luisa and those who know her best struggle with this and Gil naturally portrays it very well. Manga/anime clearly comes into it, as well, and Gil has called her writing mangic realism. However, you do not have to be a fan of manga/anime to appreciate this novel. What she does do, as many writers do, is show that the dividing line between reality and fantasy is very hazy and that the two can unexpectedly merge. In this novel the manga/anime plot is played out in unexpected ways, as people turn out not to be who we thought they were and there are a variety of strange plot twists. That a Mexican writer essentially writes a quasi-Japanese novel is in itself interesting. However, Gil has clearly done her homework not only on manga/anime but Japanese customs and behaviour and gives us a thoroughly original novel.
First published by Suma de Letras in 2011
No English translation