The Cheese Stealer’s Handbook, set in Montreal, tackles alcoholism and drug addiction
In his novella The Cheese Stealer’s Handbook, Shoshaku Jushaku treats his readers to a glimpse into the life of an alcoholic drug addict who just can’t seem to get anything right. The story begins in our very own Montreal and follows the narrator, Acky, through his journey to become an author.
This, coupled with his struggle as an addict, makes for a confusing and sombre yet wildly interesting read. We also get a glimpse into his love life, catching the tail end of one relationship and witnessing him dive headfirst into another. The storyline jumps around quite a bit, but only in order to keep up with Acky’s sporadic nature.
You could easily read through this book in one sitting without feeling like you’ve rushed through it. If you’re someone who needs to have all of your questions answered by the end of your read, I could not suggest a book more contrary than this. If, on the other hand, you like being left more in the dark than when you first picked the book up, this one’s for you! The best books are the ones that shake you up a little and make you ask yourself all kinds of questions that you most likely never would have asked otherwise. This is undoubtedly one of those books.
Worthy of mention is the way in which the chapters are separated within the novella. Each is accompanied by a quote that ties in absolutely perfectly with that chapter. Finding a book that uses quotations and references philosophers in a humorous, yet accurate way is a rare treasure and adds a lot to this story.
In my mind, this novella will stick with you in a strange way. You’ll remember little snippets of it and they won’t seem to make any sense, but I think that is how Jushaku is so successful at putting you into the scene. Anyone can relate to Acky’s scattered mind because of its honesty and how well it reflects human nature. Acky knows that he quite literally never makes the right choice and the easy solution, as a reader, would be to remain frustrated with him for being so blatantly idiotic. The story is centered on addiction, and I think Jushaku might have been trying to show what being so deeply addicted can do to someone who otherwise has the potential to be great. You can tell how intelligent Acky is, but he just cannot function properly in society. The reason it speaks to human nature, as a whole, is how everyone has demons they will simply never be able to overcome.
This novella is nothing short of a great little piece of work, and has so much depth packed into only 112 pages. It’s a great example of fiction writing in which the main character is developed in such a short timeframe, allowing the reader to form a strong opinion on him. I think the text merits at least two reads in order to mull over Acky’s jumpy narrative, but it is a book definitely worth carving some time out to read.