Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings is a book written by Katharine Johnson with the subordinate title of “A Vintage Mystery”. Now, I’ve no idea what a vintage mystery is—a historical mystery perhaps, and I do know for sure what ‘vintage’ and ‘mystery’ mean on their own—but I believe that having such subordinate title together with the book’s title itself, is an overkill. The book is already aptly named. Those three words alone have already revealed too much of the plot, and the more the reader reads, the clearer it becomes that they perfectly sum up the whole book in a very obvious manner as well. Thus, to include the given subordinate title together with the title would be like telling someone who can see that the wall painted in pink and read the words ‘pink wall’ on the sign in front of said wall, is pink in colour.
That aside, the writing for this book is very descriptive, and it has a narration style that reminds me of Haruki Murakami’s. However, unlike Murakami whose writing will force the reader to search for meaning deeper than the deep, Johnson’s writing doesn’t. Due to this, the story falls flat, the abundance of descriptions become unnecessary and redundant or repetitive at times, and the complexity characters don’t evolve enough to feel human-like. Furthermore, despite the fact that the story is told in first point-of-view, it doesn’t properly focus on the main character, Jack and the things that revolve or unravel around him. By this, I mean that Jack feels more like an observer than a participant of his own story.
On top of that, I’m sorry to say but I really disliked Jack. For an adult who graduate from university with a degree in Law from Cambridge, he is incredibly foolish and naïve. His incapability of keeping his hands to himself in order to ensure that his lie of Giselle being his sister, is stupid. Honestly, what’s the point of telling that lie and create an image that you’re a brother commits incest with his sister? Why not just simply say that Giselle is a friend, or a lover or something along those lines? Especially when you know that you can’t keep your hands to yourself because the other person is some beguiling being? I know that a great many believed that sex before marriage was taboo in the 1930s, but isn’t incest even greater of a taboo? Really, that lie was unnecessary for the plot since having sex in a house full of busybodies in itself already permits the acts of suspicion of the other residents, and Jack’s annoyance.
Also, Jack is also apparently a yes-man and a wimp. He allows himself to be ordered around by Janet (a girl he later marries in order to forget about Giselle, but please, we all know he won’t do the forgetting) and finds it wonderful that she’s the complete opposite of ‘Giselle the love of his life who got away’ even though Janet has no right to make some of the demands she does. Janet is also a cheating bitch who believes that loneliness can be chased away by having sex or a side-lover (Hello stupid, ever heard of friends?), and she ends up pregnant while Jack is away at war. She uses the incredibly shitty and stupid excuses of I-didn’t-think-you’d-come-back and I-had-a-moment-of-weakness, but Jack decides to stay married to her and forgive her. Oh, he’s also fine with the baby being raised in his household because hey, he doesn’t have to feel guilty about Janet not having her own child anymore. Furthermore, Janet has the audacity to tell her child that Jack’s her father before discussing the topic with Jack as well. I’m sorry but are you fucking kidding me? I very much want to strangle both J’s right now, particularly the female one.
Other than that, Jack’s obsession with Giselle, combined with the terrors of being part of the army whilst at war, has brought upon hallucinations in which Giselle is the star of. Later, once he’s out of the army, he even hires a detective to track her down, and this is where the story gets more (unsurprisingly) complicated and slightly ironic. I won’t spoil this part but I have to say that the stupidity of the majority of characters involved along with the irritation I feel towards them, have increased tenfold by that point. One perfect phrase in Bahasa Melayu that would describe those characters would be “Bodoh sial semua”, or in mixed Chinese dialects “死别笨到”.
Honestly, the only character I actually liked in this whole book is Gilbert, the detective. Gee golly, he’s the only one with his head screwed on right. Also, am I the only one who finds Evie (Giselle’s sister) ability to recite paragraphs in years-old letters word for word, rather amazing? Like wow, how does one do that?
All in all, this story is completely typical. Man gets disillusioned by a woman, falls in love with her, she runs away, he tries to live on while finding for her, blah, blah, blah. There are some twists that actually did throw me off and I rather liked the last few chapters, but the premise of the whole story was obvious from the very beginning. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the title and the subordinate title gave too much of the book for there to even be a strong element of surprise. Had this book been written differently, I might’ve liked it better.