By Mick Jackson
Faber & Faber/Paperback/237 pages/$29.91/Books Kinokuniya/****
A young Japanese tourist tramps through the damp heather of the Yorkshire moors, trailing the ghost of her dead mother. It might seem an incongruous choice of material for British writer Mick Jackson's latest work, but he pulls it off with aplomb.
Jackson, whose 1997 novel The Underground Man was shortlisted for the Booker prize, conveys his native English countryside through foreign eyes in this tale that verges at times on the implausible, but in so charming a fashion you could forgive its worse transgressions.
The titular Yuki-chan is the only youngster in a tour group of elderly Bronte fangirls making their pilgrimage to the village of Haworth, where the sisters once resided.
But while her companions are there to commune with the Gothic moors that inspired Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Yuki is chasing her ghosts.
Ten years ago, her mother made a mysterious visit to Haworth. On her return to Japan, she was found dead in the snow.
Yuki, who considers herself something of a psychic detective, hopes that retracing her mother's footsteps will tell her why.
Readers looking for the Brontes will be disappointed. The sisters are a peripheral presence in the novel; instead, the rugged moors they popularised supply the atmospheric backdrop for the journey of a new heroine.
Eccentric Yuki is a hard-drinking, pipe-smoking college student who, with her passion for vintage circle skirts and the Swinging Sixties, seems at first to have walked out of a Haruki Murakami novel.
Jackson, however, fully fleshes out his heroine to an extent that Murakami never would.
Yuki is endearing in her wild flights of whimsy. The Beautiful Decrepit Future of her imagination is populated by revolving tower restaurants linked by cable chairs and women whose beehive hairdos conceal hidden cameras.
The dizzying tangents of her train of thought are anchored, however, by keenly felt emotions and anxieties. These are as tiny as her self-consciousness as she photographs her lunch while being judged by her elderly travel companions - something every millennial must endure from time to time - and as vast as the raw ache of her mother's loss.
She heads an ensemble cast of women in a landscape that, in a significant departure from the Bronte mould, is almost devoid of men.
No Byronic hero hijacks her quest; rather, she forms a bond with a teenage girl called Denny, who rides a stolen motorbike and has no qualms about shooting strangers in the butt if they annoy her.
Despite no shared language or interests, they flee large dogs on the moors together, break into old folks' homes and sustain a multitude of scrapes, bruises and lost shoes.
For all the thrills and spills of their escapades and the occasional brush with the supernatural, Jackson's denouement is not so much a twist ending as the slightest of clicks, as everything slides into place to bring Yuki's journey full circle.
At its core, it is a quiet exploration of the ways that the dead stay with us, whether out on the wiley or in the hollows of our hearts.
If you like this, read: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Penguin, 1966, $17.82, Books Kinokuniya), another novel ostensibly related to the Brontes. In Rhys' spin on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the madwoman in the attic comes to life as Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway, who is torn away from her native Jamaica after her marriage to a certain Englishman falls apart.