Ristorante Paradiso

July 5, 2011

Natsume Ono – Viz – 2010 – 1 volume

Natsume Ono has a pretty good track record for me. I loved not simple, and I thought that House of Five Leaves was pretty great even after I went in dreading it. So when I picked up Ristorante Paradiso, I was ready to fall in love.

The story is about a girl named Nicoletta traveling to Rome to be reunited with her mother. Her mother, Olga, abandoned her after hooking up with a guy who apparently hated children. Nicoletta finds her mother in Rome at the restaurant owned by Olga’s husband, Ristorante Casetta Dell’orso. The restaurant is staffed entirely by older men in glasses. While Nicoletta gets her bearings and tries to decide whether she wants to reveal that Olga is her mother, she slowly falls in step with life at the restaurant and learns a little about all the men that work there.

The book’s charm lies in the way it tells a story without telling a story. Nicoletta hears personal histories and all sorts of gossip, little by little, as she stays at the restaurant and eventually becomes part of the family there. There’s little overarching plot, instead we are treated to a slice-of-life story full of anecdotes that flesh out the characters with little else happening.

These sorts of stories can be enjoyable, and it’s rare that we see them in English. Watching things unfold is fun, and I love the storytelling technique where the characters are simply real people, and Nicoletta is hearing their stories not because of traumatic events, but because she asks. It’s a great concept, and Ono pulls it off really well.

Then what’s my problem? These characters are so damn mundane. You know what I could do instead of reading this book? Go to work and talk to my own coworkers. Their lives are actually far more interesting than anything that happened in Ristorante Paradiso.

And therein lies the problem. Why am I reading this, then? What does this book have to offer me that going out and talking to real people can’t? I’d be hard pressed to find people who are less interesting than the characters in this book.

I think I may be the only person who didn’t like this. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste. It does a good job of simulating reality without actually being real. I don’t mind reality-based stories (I’ll read pretty much anything, honestly), but within that, there still has to be a story to tell. The men here just weren’t interesting enough for my taste.

I’m still going to read Gente, the follow-up series with the same characters. Perhaps a deeper look into the lives of the characters will reveal more interesting stories to tell than their day-to-day affairs. And Natsume Ono is still a great writer, so I’m sure there’ll be something to like there.

I don’t know. Maybe I just read this on the wrong day or something.