Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Glass Geishas by Susanna Quinn; My Review

Glass Geishas - what a fantastic title.
Geisha are of course the traditional Japanese entertainers, all thick black laquered hair, ivory skin and brightly coloured kimono's, that are a symbol of Japan - and Japanese beauty. But the Glass Geisha in the title are not the precise and careful beauties with many years of training pouring cups of tea.  The Glass Geisha are the wild and crazy hostesses who pour the whisky and keep the salarymen 'genki' (happy) whilst downing glasses full of spirits and mixers that they earn £3.50 comms each on.
How do I know?
Because I was a Roppongi girl once.
I went on dohans, got kickbacks from champagne bars, survived on a diet of booze, strong charcoal cigarettes, sushi and drugs supplied by the club's shadiest customers for a few months in Roppongi, Tokyo's infamous entertainment district.  Like so many other Western girls, we bought a one way ticket and worked through our tourist visa, six days a week, living in cramped accommodation that the locals dubbed 'Pussy Plaza'.
It was awful yet fantastic, but I wouldn't do it again, so I pushed the experience to the back of my mind, not wanting to relive memories which are at times painful and leave me disgusted by the life my naive young self fell into.
Forgotten - until Glass Geishas came along.

I loved reading this book.  The pages flowed like the drinks in the book - page after page just turning through my fingers.  I got it from the book launch, where I was lucky enough to meet the lovely author Susanna Quinn herself, and that was on a Thursday before I went to work at my club nearby.  I started Glass Geishas on my journey home at 5am, and was still reading it in bed as the sun came up.  The images of rain soaked narrow streets and neon lights were too much for me, so I poured myself a gin. And then another. And I laughed and cried and drank more gin until I passed out.
(I'm not recommending that you attempt to read it in this fashion, but it is fun.  Especially if you drink every time they say 'champagne', 'knocked back', 'little glasses of vodka tonic' etc.)
Now for the average reader - girls, you are going to love this book.  It's got a cracking storyline and fantastically detailed description of the strange happenings and secretive world of Tokyo.  Everyone is half-crazy, the industry has turned them into complete alcoholics, and no-one tells the whole story, if they get past lying through their teeth in the first place.
It's written from three points of view - a new girl called Stephanie who is desperate for what she has been told is 'quick and easy' money by her old schoolfriends who are living it up there already - but Julia is distant and weird whilst the other, Annabel, has plum disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving only a diary behind.
The second narrative is based on a cranky Japanese House Mum 'Mama San' who is telling her life story to a Western journo.  She comes out with some real filth on Japanese perversions (actually, the book opens with a shady Rophynol scene, and that's tame compared to what happen's later.)
The third is a string of emails from a hostess who has been there for some time.  I must admit I didn't get this - I thought it clunky and unnecessary, as it was mainly some girl being insecure and moaning about how it was all going downhill.  I suppose that it was included to serve as a reminder of how the hostess industry could really mess with some girls psyches, but then I was half a bottle of gin down at the time and certainly didn't need any reminder of how within a few months I was a shaking alcoholic letting myself get felt up for fifty bucks a song.
Cleverly, this book is not a memoir.  It's a novel.  It has a proper story , with an intriguing beginning, an exciting middle, and a slightly rushed and very neat ending where everything falls into place - hurrah!  In short, the perfect summertime read.  Out of all the books on the entertainment and sex industries that I have read and reviewed, this is one of the freshest and original, and I hope it marks a turn in the tide of the neverending stream of memoirs and now-I've-left-the-industry biographies which is the normal publishing format.
Go buy it.  Glass Geishas ; 356 pages with a gin chaser.  Lovely.

No comments: