Title: The Buddha’s Bone
Author: Leilanie Stewart
Publisher: Leilanie Stewart
Published Date: 25th October 2021
Page Count: 357
Reviewer: Gwendoline SK Terry (12th June 2022)
She was in Japan to teach English. She’d soon discover the darker side of travelling alone.
Kimberly Thatcher was a Londoner who set off to teach English in Japan on a one year contract. After escaping her abusive boyfriend back in London, she soon found herself pursued by a colleague – with even more sinister intentions than her ex. Kimberly would soon learn the darker nature of her relationships, forcing her on a soul-searching journey through darkness to find the light. What happened when you looked into the abyss?
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Kimberly Thatcher wasn’t an English teacher. She wasn’t a poet. She wasn’t an adventurer. Now she wasn’t even a fiancée. But when one of her fellow non-Japanese colleagues tried to make her a victim, she said no.
In Japan on a one-year teaching contract at a private English language school, and with her troubled relationship far behind her in London, Kimberly set out to make new friends. She would soon discover the darker side of travelling alone – and people’s true intentions.
As she came to question the nature of all those around her – and herself – Kimberly was forced to embark on a soul-searching journey into emptiness. What came next after you looked into the abyss? Could Kimberly overcome the trauma – of sexual assault and pregnancy loss – blocking her path to personal enlightenment along the way, and forge a new identity in a journey of-
Death. Cremation. Rebirth.
TRIGGER WARNINGS/AUTHOR NOTE – This novel deals with serious and sensitive issues. Please take care of the following: Racist language (by the antagonist); sexual assault; rape; miscarriage; mental health issues; substance abuse; depictions of sex.
I was excited to read this book after I finished Leilanie Stewart’s incredible debut novel, ‘Gods of Avalon Road’. I had high expectations, but, unfortunately, ‘The Buddha’s Bone’ didn’t enthral me like ‘Gods of Avalon Road’ did. In fact, it was somewhat disappointing. Leilanie Stewart is an excellent author, and I do think that her talent shows in the writing of this story, she is let down by the horrendously unlikeable main character, Kimberly, and the frequent subtle racism throughout the book.
I’d like to start the review with the good: despite my issues with it, the novel is well-written. Leilanie Stewart knows how to set a scene. Also, I really liked the Japanese words and the translated phrases throughout the book. I love finding a bit of education in fiction novels, and this novel didn’t disappoint in that regard.
The bad: I hated how most of the Japanese people’s English dialogue is written. I understand the author is trying to portray broken English, but it’s so overdone that it’s awkward. There’s such a racist air to this book, it makes for an uncomfortable read in many parts. I also didn’t like the comment about lesbians and feminists keeping an ‘unruly bush’. It was such a random, rude generalisation/stereotype.
As for the main character: Kimberly Thatcher is stuck up and snobbish, and so hard to sympathise with. She can’t take a joke to save her life and behaves like both a victim and an elitist narcissist simultaneously. In the beginning, Kimberly makes the decision to leave England for a year and teach English in Japan, yet the moment she lands she disparages everything Japanese. She’s understandably anxious to start her new chapter in Japan, but she’s not even a tiny bit excited to be there. Surely she should be at least slightly happy since she was the one who made the decision to go in the first place.
The company she works for arranges for Kimberly to move into an apartment with her colleague, an American named JP – stylised as Jei Pi. Jei Pi is an odd one, she is eccentric, overbearing and unrestrained – and cringey. Kimberly (who seems racist towards the Japanese throughout the book) takes an instant dislike to Jei Pi, insulting her for being a fat ‘UK size 16’ and ginger, thinking Jei Pi is weird because she has immersed herself in Japanese culture, on top of being loud and fat. Kimberly takes everything Jei Pi says as a threat or jab, though not once does Kimberly stop to think it might be a culture difference at play. Americans are a lot brasher in their way of speaking than Brits.
Either way, I didn’t think a few cringey comments on Jei Pi’s part warranted Kimberly making fun of Jei Pi’s appearance like a schoolchild. Teasing someone for the colour of their hair and for being overweight is callous and stupid – I couldn’t believe Kimberly was supposed to be 25 when she constantly belittled Jei Pi for her appearance.
Realistically, as an adult, Kimberly should’ve contacted her company and had her living arrangements changed the moment Jei Pi went through her belongings. It was an easy fix, but Kimberly apparently did not think of that – proving that she was immature and thoughtless.
Kimberly is also a hypocrite. She goes off the rail when Jei Pi has a friend come over to their apartment to watch a movie without consulting Kimberly first, yet Kimberly herself has been planning on having her awful boyfriend stay with them for three months since she landed in Japan but didn’t consult Jei Pi about it until an entire week after moving in.
At some point, Kimberly and Jei Pi become friends. It happened in the blink of an eye, none of their issues resolved. Still, Kimberly doesn’t pass up an opportunity to insult Jei Pi for being overweight and ginger.
Another thing I found particularly grating about the story is how Kimberly has to be the centre of attention at all times. Kimberly is constantly described as being so beautiful – because she isn’t Asian. Within a few weeks, she’s the ‘best teacher ever’ because all the students are so fascinated by her white, blonde, blue-eyed beauty. Kimberly has to be superior to everyone at all times – teaching, looks, everything. Constantly throughout the book are remarks about how perfect her body is, especially when compared to Asian women’s.
Halfway through the book, Kimberly does recognise her issue with wanting to be the centre of attention and viewing all women (Asian or not) as competition, though she didn’t seem to resolve that issue.
Despite how awful Kimberly is, she doesn’t deserve the horrid boyfriend that she has. Carl is a rude, racist arse (more racist than Kimberly, can you believe it!). He’s cruel, abusive and abrasive. I absolutely hated him. Stewart set out to make him a repulsive character and she succeeded. Every time he had dialogue, I found myself angry or disgusted.
I didn’t understand how – even after seven years of being in an abusive relationship – Kimberly was so unaffected by the sexual assault and rape, to the point of pursuing her attacker in an almost romantic fashion. By this point, I was eye-rolling so hard that I thought my eyeballs were going to pop out.
Ultimately, Kimberly was rude, immature and unlikeable. She didn’t deserve the wonderful, sweet Naoki.