My Beautiful Shadow by Radhika Jha
Publication: March 1st 2017 by Jacaranda Books
Format: Paperback Pages: 225
“I have a secret. I belong to a club. And my club is the biggest, best kept secret in all of Tokyo.”
Kayo is a young Tokyo housewife and mother. Outwardly, she is no different from other young mothers. But she has a secret. She belongs to a kind of club. It involves beautiful clothes and accessories and is the most important thing in the women’s lives.
The club makes it possible for Kayo to escape the tedium of her life and to embrace a dazzling new world. But it quickly becomes an obsession, a drug, the way to both paradise and hell. Can she find her way out of the dark underworld of debt, lies and prostitution? Or is she doomed to exchange one form of loneliness for another?
A deeply absorbing novel about the ‘holes’ that suddenly appear in women’s lives, My Beautiful Shadow is also a powerful cautionary tale about consumerism gone mad. – Goodreads.
The publisher sent me a copy of this book for an honest review.
TW: there’s a rape scene near the end of the book and there’s a suicide but it isn’t shown.
Set in Japan, My Beautiful Shadow story is told from the first-person perspective of Kayo. Kayo is a mother and housewife who, upon being inundated by the lavish lifestyle of the women in Tokyo, begins to develop an unhealthy relationship with clothes and accessories herself. My Beautiful Shadow is about how some people fill the void inside them by becoming shopaholics. The seemingly harmless obsession with trinkets and toys turns out to be dark and this book sheds light on the dirty side of the shopaholic story, the side that’s littered with lies, debt and desperation.
I reached for this book whenever I had a second to spare because I was eager to learn more about Kayo. Radhika Jha did an excellent job at taking what I would otherwise consider a boring character and making her someone so mysterious and complex that I had to know more about her. My personal take on this story was that consumerism is toxic, but there’s something far more deadly beneath all that, which is what is pushing so many people to this addiction to material things in the first place.
Kayo’s experiences makkura, which (according to the book) means pure blackness in Japanese, during her second pregnancy. Kayo’s descriptions of makkura make it sound like depression (antepartum depression in her case). She explains that it’s something many women in Japan experience but they don’t talk about it.
The narrative helped me gather an understanding of the disconnect and alienation the women in Jha’s story feel from not only one another, but the world in general. Despite their disconnect, these women are placed in a claustrophobic environment where neighbours stand in for police and judge. The pressure to behave a certain way and look a certain way whilst keeping all of your feelings bottled up is overwhelming, which explains the need to find some external source of relief. For Kayo, the way to escape is by buying beautiful things. The thrill of buying a Louis Vuitton tote for herself helps Kayo release that breath she has held onto all week.
Of course, there are only so many expensive shopping trips you can take before your bank gives you a worried call. The housewife’s life starts to fall apart soon after her addiction takes hold and the rest of the book is about her adventures and attempts in finding the means to pay for her drug. For a while, her husband is blissfully unaware of his wife’s shopping habits but you can’t keep something like that a secret forever. I didn’t agree with a lot of Kayo’s actions but Jha did an incredible job at evoking empathy, she made even the most absurd situations faced by Kayo seem understandable. I grew to like Kayo and I hoped for her happiness because I felt pity for her and her situation.
I don’t have anything negative to say about this book. My Beautiful Shadow is truly a gripping book about consumerism and the lives of those addicted to the material world. It will challenge you to take another look at society.