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Ireland, Ann.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985. 206pp. cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-7710-4363-5, CIP

Reviewed by Catherine Creede

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

Ann Ireland's first novel is an examination of the way in which our lives can be profoundly shaped by someone who remains himself fairly disassociated from us. The novel tells the story of two sisters who develop an obsession with a Japanese pianist, the Mr. Takahashi of the title. The twin time-frames of the novel reveal how the experience that the sisters shared as teenagers shaped their lives then, and continues to affect their relationship now they are adults. The concept of being influenced by someone who remains aloof is not an original one, and there have been allegations that the plot of Ireland's book is remarkably similar to that of the 1964 Peter Seller's film, The World of Henry Orient. But while the storyline may or may not be loosely borrowed, Ireland's writing makes the book worth reading.

The movement between two styles of narration is one of the more fascinating aspects of the novel. The younger sister is the focus of the novel, and she tells the story of her teenage years from a first-person perspective, using the technique of the historical present. Her adult years, which are the present of the novel, are related by a third person, an anonymous narrator: The two time frames are paralleled in the structure of the novel, as chapters of the teenage years are alternated with those of the present. The character of Jean unfolds by the layering of her past experience with its effect on her present. The narrative technique serves to underline the fact that a woman can be distanced from her present self because of past events. Ireland carries the theme of the influencing powers of certain figures further in her very style. Just as the sisters go through a Japanese phase in the decoration of their rooms, the often poetic language of the novel has echoes of the Oriental.

A Certain Mr. Takahashi is a compelling novel, but may not be appropriate for some high school students. One of the central metaphors of the novel is the sexual tension between the sisters and the pianist. The one fairly explicit scene is delicately handled, but the fact that it involves both young sisters and Mr. Takahashi may offend some readers. The scene is a pivotal one in its implications for the relationship between the sisters however, and is a necessary element of the novel, despite its unorthodox nature. Ann Ireland's first novel is a beautifully written, touching work. It received the 1985 Seal First Novel Award, a prize that was well deserved.

Catherine Creede, Windsor, Ont.
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