Yuki Chan in Bronte Country is a small and tender book. I think Mick Jackson, the author, took several risks to write the story of Yukiko and her strange and haunting search for her mother in England’s Brontë country. After all, the standard advice is “write what you know.” What does Jackson, a middle-aged white man from England know about being a young woman from Japan who is just out of school?
Quite a bit if you stop thinking about “what you know” as a set of characteristics, landmarks and skills and instead remember that “what you know” can be the emotions of loss, grief, confusion, and longing. Yuki has come to Brontë country to understand her mother better, to find a way to deal with her loss and understand her past. Jackson does not have to be who he writes, he only has to understand his character’s heart and he surely does that.
I have a strong preference for books that do not lay everything out for the reader, the books that make us work, to understand and contextualize the story. For that reason, I enjoyed Yuki Chan in Brontë Country very much. If you want a linear, coherent narrative that feeds you everything in consecutive, easily digested morsels, you will probably dislike this book very much.
Yuki thinks of herself a “psychic detective” on the trail of her mother who died ten years ago. Haworth was the last place her mother visited. Her explorations are guided by five photos her mother took while she was there. The narrative is a bit like the playfield of a pinball machine, with Yukiko banking off the places in the photos like a ball off the bumpers, rails and flippers of the game. Sometimes we drop with her into a kickout hole of memory, a visit to a library to look at “spirit photographs” that fascinated her late mother or into another little hole while she wonders about the mystery and science of snow crystals. It’s all to advance the story, to draw together the haunting elements of mourning, but while we sit there with her in that hole, waiting to pop back into the narrative, we can perhaps fall out of the story. It did make it easy to put down, but also easy to pick right back up and get back in.
Her initial exploration, including a bit of trespass, are witnessed by Denny, a strange and mysterious young local girl from Haworth who makes it possible for Yuki to see all the places her mother saw. Yuki, and probably most readers, wonders why Denny befriends her, though perhaps she is just a kind, open-hearted young woman who is excited to know someone who is not from around here. Didn’t we all want to be friends with the foreign exchange student?
I enjoyed Yuki Chan in Brontë Country and I think perhaps more than most people might. In the course of a day, my mind may jump from thinking about Antarctic exploration, the poetry of Gabriela Mistral, cats and their inscrutable ways, the finer points of grapefruit and how many ways I can use vagile in a sentence. And actually, that’s just from the last few hours and does not count the topics kicked off by Yukio’s active mind. While I think the psychic visions and spirit photos are bunkum and have no belief in communication with spirits whether it’s with Ouija or Kokkuri-San, I enjoyed he meandering ways of Yuki’s mind, her funny ideas of futuristic circling cafes, her fascination for snow crystals, her open curiosity about the world.
I liked her quite a lot in if she is overly fond of hoodoo. I liked the way we slowly understood the truth about her mother, piece by piece and bit by bit and how, in the end, our questions were answered. I liked that this is a fresh and different story, unlike any other. I liked its discipline and brevity. Yuki’s mind meandered and wandered all over, but always to a purpose however oblique in the moment. Mostly, though, I loved the compassion, the simple and true understanding how deeply grief is rooted right down into your bones and sinew, how debilitating and shattering it can be. This is a novel with heart, a heart as big as Brontë Country and then some.
I was provided an advance galley of Yuki Chan in Brontë Country from the publisher through NetGalley.