A Tale for the Time Being is proof that big things come in small packages. Not the book itself—at just over 400 pages, it’s a commitment—but in the characters themselves. Ozeki’s Man Booker-nominated novel contains no larger-than-life or overly dramatic characters. No true villains, no celebrated heroes unseemly with their own goodness. But it contains heroes nonetheless. It’s the story of Nao, who begins to tell a story just to pass the time, or just in time, or before time runs out.
A Tale for the Time Being is a series of stories that get bound up in others, swirled around, and tucked inside until the characters—and the readers—are so thoroughly engrossed that there is no turning back. In Ozeki’s novel characters are drawn to relive and remember the past, theirs and others’, to feel regret and loss over events and actions taken and not taken, and yet the novel conveys the heady knowledge that whatever they feel about the past, they wouldn’t change it, couldn’t change it—there is no other way it could have happened—and yet, what if it just… did? Ozeki plays with time; her characters play with and experience time in a multitude of ways.
Nao’s story itself is a time being—a thing lost in time, a singular moment—as it wouldn’t even be told to the reader if not for the fact that Ruth picked it up on a beach on the other side of the Pacific from where it was originally written. It is Ruth’s fascination with Nao’s story, her reading of it that in effect makes it happen for us the readers. And Nao’s story gives truth to other stories, stories which have happened in the past, stories which may or may not be entirely true or real. Nao has experienced heartbreak and loss of her own, made all the more heartbreaking by her revelations of the pain and suffering of others in her family. Ruth’s experience of Nao’s story adds a further layer when processed through the conditions of Ruth’s own past and present.
Ozeki plays with point of view in her novel, wringing the most out of how her characters perceive each other to bring her stories alive. She uses the twinned storylines of Ruth and Nao to show how sometimes it takes more than one perspective to really understand a person or their actions. She makes tangible how regret and redemption can be some of the most powerful forces in people’s lives, bringing them closer to each other even over vast distances of time. A Tale for the Time Being is a powerful piece of storytelling, highly recommended for readers looking for a good existential read, or interested in complicated storylines. This novel will also be a delight for readers looking for a modern novel that analyzes current events, or even for readers who fancy a blending of the past and present. A Tale for the Time Being breaks down the barrier between reader, writer, and the story itself, and will be enjoyed by readers looking to break out of a reading rut, a change of pace from the business of usual of most novels.