Thursday, May 01, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #120: La Quinta Camera by Natsume Ono

Books that can surprise you once are a joy. Books that can surprise you repeatedly are even more precious than that. La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room -- a manga complete in one volume by Natsume Ono, whose work I haven't seen before -- surprised me at least three times, which is quite impressive.

In an Italian city -- which one is never specified, though we know it's not Rome -- a young Danish language student, Charlotte, arrives. She accidentally leaves her purse behind in the truck that gave her a ride, and a local man is rude to her, but she is quickly befriended by a street musician and then by his cafe-owner friend. Her housing at the language school has been mixed up, but she's sent to stay in the fifth bedroom of a local apartment, where her new roommates will be four middle-aged men. And, of course, they are the four men she's just met: the truck driver, who saved her purse, the rude local artist, the musician, and the cafe owner.

There's maybe one small surprise in all of that, but the first big one comes right afterward: this story is not the story you expect. It's centered around that apartment, and the four men who live there and the students and other transients who stay in that fifth room for a season or a year, but it's not the story of how they immerse Charlotte in Italian culture and how they all love their time together. Ono is telling a different, more allusive story here, one about friendships and changes and life as it's lived, day by day, season by season, year by year.

I shouldn't explain any more, if I want other readers to be surprised as I was. La Quinta Camera is a sweet lovely story about people and their regular lives, funny and realistic and discursive and full of local color and spice. And it will likely surprise and delight you, just like it did me.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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