The Book of Loss is one of those rare novels in which you can absolutely hate the protagonist and everything she stands for, but still like the story. That’s usually a pretty difficult thing—after all, if you’re too busy wanting to slap the shit out of some whiney character, then the tale itself usually falls by the wayside. Yet, author Julith Jedamus has formed a world where every character has some pretty glaring flaws; it’s just a matter of shades of gray.
Jedamus’s novel takes place in Heian Japan, in the muffled halls of the Imperial Court. While the world outside steadily goes to hell by way of plague and mismanagement, the interior of the female quarter is going through a war of its own. The unnamed narrator leaves us a diary that chronicles her rage as her exiled lover, Tachibana no Kanesuke, transfers his affections to her younger, prettier rival, Izumi no Jiju. Our narrator’s jealousy and paranoia grows until it shakes the very heart of the Empire.
Like I mentioned before, the narrator is pitiful and rather unlikeable, not only through her actions, but through her very unreliability as a narrator. We only see within her warped little world and rarely catch a glimpse of the reactions of others in a society where emotions of the sort are taboo. Granted, she was thoroughly wronged by Kanesuke and Izumi, but we never get a firm feeling as to whether they truly deserves the amount of rage the narrator invests in them. Jedamus has used Imperial Japan’s veiled society to create a situation where the reader feels eternally off balanced and, as a result, always on her toes.