Ben Constable has written a book about, well, Ben Constable. In Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa we are treated to a dark and psychologically gripping story of our protagonist, Ben Constable, and his friend Tomomi (who goes by the nickname Butterfly). The novel opens with Ben and Butterfly exchanging letters about a book that Ben plans to write. The rest of the novel details the experiences of Ben after he is notified of Tomomi’s death. The dialogue is clever and draws the reader in to the heart of the suspense and action. The revelation that Tomomi has committed suicide sends Ben off on a wild goose chase of a scavenger hunt that was set in place by Tomomi herself. Soon it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems and that Ben never really knew Tomomi or what she was capable of. As Ben questions his relationship with Tomomi and asks himself what kind of darkness may have been hidden in her heart, he begins to realize, as does the reader, that he may be in grave danger. Will he unravel the mysteries Tomomi has left behind for him? Is each clue leading him toward his own death? And can we ever really know our friends? These are the questions we ask ourselves as we move toward the end of Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa.
By the time we reach the conclusion, we start to ask different questions. Is Tomomi a real person known to the author and is the exchange in the beginning of the novel perhaps genuine? Is the rest of the novel his fulfillment of a promise to write a fictional novel about their relationship? Or are the letters in the opening chapter the voice of not Ben the author but Ben the protagonist and the rest of the novel his ‘fictional’ story (story within a story for the win). It’s also hinted at that perhaps the letter exchange belongs to the protagonist but that the story that follows is Tomomi’s (the character) fictional account as she too suggests at the beginning that she might write a novel. And of course the other possibilities include that the letters and the rest of the novel are “real” within the universe constructed by the author (i.e. a “true” tale of what transpired between those that wrote the letters that open the novel), and either recounted by the protagonist or Tomomi. If Tomomi is indeed the writer of the ensuing “true” story instead of Ben, it is implied that she may have tweaked the story to blend truth with fiction (just as her character does within the story). Confused yet?
Turning over these questions would be a great intellectual exercise for any book group – especially over a bottle of French wine to fit one of the more delicious plot points of the novel.
Getting to the end of this novel is a bit of a mind game like getting to the end of The Matrix. Likewise I think Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa would make an excellent screenplay and Hollywood drama that would leave the audience asking thoughtful questions as they left the theatre.