The unnamed narrator of 'A Separation' is a literary translator in London who's been separated from her husband Christopher for six months. By mutual consent the couple haven't yet announced their estrangement, probably to keep the news from Christopher's interfering mother. This makes it awkward when Christopher's mother, Isabella, calls the narrator, anxious because she can't reach her son.
Christopher's been in Greece for several weeks, researching a book about mourning practices, and Isabella insists the narrator go there to find him. She even arranges for the narrator's plane ticket and hotel reservation. Feeling obligated, the narrator agrees to go, determined to tell Christopher she wants a divorce.
On the way to Greece's seaside village of Mani - where Christopher's staying in a luxurious hotel - the narrator learns that the area has recently been decimated by fire, and has few visitors. The narrator checks in to the oceanfront resort, which stands out in the bleak village, and is told her husband took a short trip and will be back any day. The narrator senses that the young desk clerk, Maria, is hostile to her - and suspects the girl has a crush on Christopher, who's handsome and charming.
The narrator settles in to wait for Christopher's return, but the days pass and he doesn't show up. Meanwhile, the narrator walks around, reads, swims, sleeps, dines, and hires a local driver - Stefano - to show her the meager sights. On impulse, the narrator lies and says SHE's studying funeral rites, and Stefano takes her to meet a professional mourner - which leads the narrator to meditate about death and dying.
The narrator also mulls over her history with Christopher, remembering how he romanced her, and imagining that he used the same seduction techniques on Maria. After the narrator sees Maria have a dramatic confrontation with Stefano - and apparently reject his affections - she suspects the girl dreams of being with Christopher. To discover if Maria had an affair with her husband, the narrrator invites the girl to dinner and asks if they slept together. Maria happily answers. She also, perhaps spitefully, orders the most expensive dishes on the menu - a lobster appetizer and a steak entrée. (LOL)
When information arrives that Christopher's been staying in a different village with another woman, Maria is very upset. The narrator, however, isn't surprised since Christopher has always been a serial philanderer.
Later, Christopher is found dead, and the police investigate. The narrator, however, keeps mum about possible culprits. She's also aware that she might be a suspect herself.
When Christopher's parents come to Greece the narrator has the opportunity to cogitate on the fact that Isabella (her mother-in-law) also had affairs throughout her marriage. Isabella even knows about her son's proclivities, lamenting, 'he could never keep his dick in his pants.' Still - in a rather awkward scene - Isabella insists that the narrator affirm her love for Christopher.
The entire book is told from the point of view of the narrator, and - to be honest - I'm not quite sure what points she's making. Clearly the story is about marriage, honesty/dishonesty, infidelity, women wanting what's not good for them, and the need to move on. Other reviewers have different analyses, so maybe every reader sees something different.
Kitamura is a fine writer and the book is beautifully written, but I don't think it will appeal to everyone. The story meanders along, has a cerebral vibe, and lacks the drama/action seen in most popular fiction. Still, it's a compelling depiction of a woman dealing with a marriage gone bad (and an unexpected visit to Greece).
Rating: 3 stars