Book review: Yuki Chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson

(cover image courtesy Allen & Unwin)


Grappling with the death of parent from known or unexpected causes is hard enough; but when they die in mysterious circumstances, most likely at their own hand, it’s even harder to find a way to deal with their loss, their absence, and the void upon empty void that is left behind.

Yukiko Chan, a quirky young woman with an obsession with snow, ’60s fashions and unwillingness to be one of the Japanese tourist herd, finds herself still trapped in that invidious position in Yuki Chan in Brontë Country, 10 years after her mother’s untimely passing out in the snows of Japan.

Unable to process her death – this is not psychobabble for her, rather a matter of emotional survival, of trying to find a way to live with the wholly unliveable – she flies to the UK to retrace her mother’s steps in Brontë Country, five precious photographs in her hand that recount what may or may not be momentous incidents in a trip that took place mere months before her death.

“They’re sitting and staring out at the heavy sky when the girl says, You’re Japanese, aren’t you? Yuki nods and the girl tells her how they get a lot of Japanese visitors because of the Brontës. Yuki wants to say, I’m not like all the loonies. How hers is more of an investigative/spiritual visit, to do with her dead mother, but thinks there’s every chance the girl’s already worked that out for herself.” (P. 110)

An unusual woman prone to wondering if you could build airports underground or who muses on the efficacy of stringing lift chairs between skyscrapers to make transit between them quicker – her sketchbook is full of these musings sprung to pencil-etched life – Yukiko or “Yuki” goes about her quest to redefine her mother’s death with a mix of haphazard planning, impetuous seizing of the day and some vague idea of a plan.

She is, in others words, driven more by emotional imperative than anything else, much to her sister London-based sister Kumiko’s disgust, but then that makes sense – it is hard, if not impossible, to be dispassionate about the gaping hole left by the death of a parent.

You don’t simply move on so much as muddle through, every step fraught with unexploded emotional landmines, a journey that is equal parts forging a new life without that person, and having them intrude, in ways you don’t mind obviously but which are emotionally taxing nonetheless, on every aspect of your waking hours.

The problem for Yuki, “psychic detective” is that she doesn’t find many of these landmines; in fact, much of her journey is full of loud packs of elderly Japanese tourists, cramped tours and nights along in the B & B, where her mother also stayed, drinking Coke and eating boring Brontë biscuits, which are more a product of a cheapest-supplier marketing campaign than any grab at nineteenth authenticity.


Mick Jackson (image via Noted)


In other words, Yuki is adrift, unable to keep simply living her life in Japan with her mother’s death listed as suicide – surely the photographs, her life with her husband and daughters, everything suggested the death was a tragic accident not of her own making – but not succeeding in finding any counter evidence in the crowded surrounds of Brontë Country.

She does make one unexpected friend Denny, who helps finds certain places in the photographs; but none of these revelations provide much insight.

Great photo ops certainly, and some wholly memorable experiences as they run from dogs and nursing home matrons alike, but no real answers or sense of closure, no great “ah-ha!” moment that she can draw on to heal the scars of her mother’s death.

These come, in some form at least, later, after what some might find a slow, ambling path to the end of Yuki Chan in Brontë Country; one of the joys of this delightfully immersive, quirky, thanks largely to Yukiko’s internal monologues which is as delightfully loopy as it is emotionally resonant and profound, is that it takes its own sweet time getting to what we, and to be honest, Yuki, consider answers.

“Of course, this could very well be the same key her mother used when she stayed there. In which case, couldn’t there perhaps be some vestige of motherly kindness buried deep in it, beneath the heat of however many hundred other guests have used it since?” (P. 166)

That’s partly the journey with someone as sweetly intense and pleasingly unusual as Yuki is a joy in itself and shouldn’t be rushed no matter what you or she think the end point should be, but it’s also because, as is the way of death and the end of things, any “answers” are bound to be elusive, emotionally-unfulfilling and closure-deficient.

It’s not to say the exercise Yuki undertakes in all its convention and expectations defying haphazardness is a waste of time but it doesn’t complete the circle quite as she expects, creating, in a sense, its own unique sense of new issues to grapple with.

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country is, in its beautifully-written, neatly-nuanced and slowly-unfolding way, a touching meditation on how we deal with the loss of a parent, or any close loved one really, how overwhelming and daily it can be, and how we never really make our peace with it.

How can you really? Someone utterly essential to your life as it stands, for good or ill (for most of us the latter, thankfully) has gone, and no amount of answers, investigation, psychic or otherwise, is going to fix that or make it any better.

In many ways Yuki comes to that place, with the help of Denny and some others, and the sobering delight of Yuki Chan in Brontë Country is that it lets her, and us, take that time, mirroring what is, for many of us, a slow and meandering journey of discovery that really has no end.