The Phone Box at the Edge of the World – Laura Imai Messina
A beautifully written story that flows through ravaged loss, desolation, resilience, hope, and the promise of a future with love and peace. The Phone Box at the End of the World by Laura Imai Messina is a book that gently enriches the soul and beats with a loving serenity.
The harrowing aftermath of a natural disaster strips away normality with the sudden and unprepared death of loved ones and the destruction of property. Yui is heartbroken following a Tsunami which hit Japan on 11 March 2011 and took her mother and young daughter’s lives. Yui radiates a reverent sorrow, which captures the sense of loss. Amidst heartbreak and tenderness, she tries making sense of everything through a shroud of grief.
Yui works at a radio station and hears about a phone box in a garden on a hill in Bell Gardia, where people visit to speak with the departed.
“A disconnected phone on which you could talk to your lost loved ones. Could something like that really console people? And what would she say to her mother anyway? What could she possibly say to her little girl? The thought alone made her dizzy.”
The voices are carried away on the wind to their loved ones and while Yui is drawn to the place, she never goes inside the phone box. She meets Takeshi who is a surgeon and recently lost his wife leaving him with his mother and a three-year-old daughter, Hana, who has stopped speaking. Takeshi talks to his wife through the phone about the life and plans he and his daughter have.
Once a month Yui and Takeshi meet at Bell Gardia and gradually start chatting to each other, they sit on a bench and eat their lunch together, over time they start to message each other when back in Tokyo, until a day without contact is rare. As time passes the most thoughtful and tender relationship develops, a relationship filled with devotion but the apprehension that comes with thoughts of betraying the memories of loved ones; Takeshi dealing with feelings for another woman and Yui attached to a young girl that could have been her daughter.
Each main chapter in the book is separated by a very short chapter that acts as an interlude and I thought of these as random fragmented memories. A receipt for a frame, a description of an object, a list of the ten most vivid memories of a person, what Yui’s mother and daughter were wearing on the morning of 11 March 2011, Yui’s favourite Brazilian songs, the original title of the picture book on the afterlife that Yui gave to Hana. The emotional context of the story is very delicately drawn and the interactions between characters are inviting, with a dialogue that is cautious and fragile.
While the novel is beautifully written I felt it took longer to develop than necessary and lacked activity and intrigue. The story probably may turn in a final twist but no matter what, the conclusion will leave you with lingering images and endearing memories. If you love to read beautiful prose (which I couldn’t help highlighting) and immerse yourself in a gentle moving story of love and loss, this is a book for you, and for me. It just felt that something more captivating was missing, hence the 4 stars.
I would recommend this book and I would like to thank Bonnier Books UK and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.