Andrew Miller likes to shift the ground beneath his reader's feet. His first two novels, Ingenious Pain and Casanova, were set in the eighteenth century; Oxygen alternated between Paris, Los Angeles and England; and the backdrop of The Optimists was a genocidal massacre in Africa. With his fifth novel we are once more in unfamiliar territory – Tokyo, 1940, on the eve of the war with the Allies. The sense of displacement is further exaggerated when we learn that our hero is a 25-year-old Japanese poet. Luckily for us, he has a European literary sensibility and a fascination with Rimbaud, so he is not entirely beyond our ken. In fact he fulfils the Romantic stereotype of the doomed poet afflicted by ill-health.
Yuji Takano has been abandoned by his muse and his readers; his first (and only) book of verse, Electric Dragonfly, has sold just thirty-seven copies. ‘Is there anything sadder or more useless in the world than a book of poems nobody wants?’ he reflects. Yuji is a sensitive soul nursing