Everyone has different tastes; a wide variety of preferences as to what stimulates their particular palate, and what flavours cause their mouth to water. However, no matter how many of us have eaten paper on occasion as children (or was it just me?), I doubt most of us would consider books as a delicacy to be nibbled on and savoured. Not so Tohko Amano, the self-proclaimed "book girl" that heads up the title of this series of light novels, the first of which is now available in translated English form from Yen Press. Indeed, Tohko has little interest in "normal" food at all, finding herself unable to taste a thing compared to the cornucopia of flavours she can experience by ripping the pages from a good book and chowing down on them.
It's this "unique" habit of Tohko's that contributes to her slightly odd friendship with Konoha Inoue, the narrator of this story and a former child prodigy of a writer whose ability collapsed under the weight of his fame and, more importantly, his use of a pen-name that led everyone who read his work to assume that he was a girl. The scars of this fleeting and awkward celebrity hang heavy throughout this novel, although Tohko has succeeded in at least somewhat rehabilitating her junior by all-but forcing him to join the literature club (of which she was the solitary member) and making him write "snacks" for her.
Not long after joining this duo at the beginning of the book and setting up this basic premise, Konoha's quiet life is interrupted by a visit to the literary club by the clumsy yet cheerful Chia Takeda, who has come for some help with a problem - there's a boy she likes, but she has no idea how to let him know she has a crush on him. Next thing he knows Konoha is writing a love letter to the boy in question, Shuji, on Chia's behalf, and this soon turns into a daily task as Takeda's relationship with the apple of her eye appears to grow.
While the early chapters of the book largely feel like the kind of light-hearted, happy-go-lucky romantic comedy its early plot developments suggest, things soon take a darker turn as the mystery surrounding Chia's would-be boyfriend grows and grows, throwing into question everything that we thought we knew about both her and Shuji. By the second half of the book we enter the world of an outright murder-mystery novel that twists and turns by the chapter as Konoha and Tohko get drawn into what could well be a deadly dangerous situation.
Although veering into such territory naturally generates some drama and tension for the second half of the novel, almost every aspect of this shift feels totally contrived and forced, losing a fair amount of its lustre in the process. Suspension of disbelief is always a requirement of your typical anime-esque light novel (especially when it deals with a girl who eats books), but somehow Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime manages to take things to such an extreme and with such rapidity that it simply doesn't work. This is particularly true when all of this murder and depression is blended into what is otherwise a light-hearted, simple and occasionally fan service centred novel, giving you the impression that this is a clumsy attempt to merge two completely different stories into one rather than a coherent narrative.
For all of its grandiose attempts at literary name-dropping and linking its story into the life and works of Osamu Dazai, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime's initially charming concept soon falls apart once it tries to move from its slightly oddball slice of life tale into darker and more serious territory - while you can't begrudge this novel its efforts, it leaves the reader to plough through a contrived story that only shows occasional glimpses of what it's capable of. As anything more than a mildly entertaining time-killer, this light novel is probably best left on the shelf... or served up as a hard to digest, paper-based snack perhaps.
It has all of the building blocks in place to create a fun, fascinating novel, but Book Girl's first outing ultimately feels clumsy and contrived.