Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa

by Benjamin Constable


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A new and enticing voice in fiction draws readers through the streets of Paris and New York on an intricate adventure. It’s twisting, contemplative, playful and darkly entertaining.

What writer Benjamin Constable needs is a real-life adventure wilder than his rampant imagination. And who better to shake up his comfortable Englishman-in-Paris routine than the enigmatic Tomomi “Butterfly” Ishikawa, who has just sent a cryptic suicide note?

She’s planted a slew of clues—in the pages of her journal, on the hard drive of her computer, tucked away in public places, under flowerpots, and behind statues. Heartbroken, confused, and accompanied by an imaginary cat, Ben embarks upon a scavenger hunt leading to charming and unexpected spaces, from the hidden alleys of Paris to the cobblestone streets of New York City.

But Butterfly’s posthumous messages are surprisingly well informed for the words of a dead person, and they’re full of confessions of a past darkened by insanity, betrayal, and murder. The treasures Ben is unearthing are installments of a gruesome memoir. Now he must draw a clear line between the real and surreal if he is to save himself, Butterfly, and what remains of their crazy and amazing friendship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451667264
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Edition description: Original
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Benjamin Constable was born in Bristol and grew up mostly in Derby. He lives in Paris where he writes fiction and teaches English. Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa is his first novel.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Ben Constable and Tomomi Ishikawa are friends. They meet for drinks, late-night cigarettes, and witty, imaginative and often surreal conversation. But Ben’s life is turned upside down when he receives what seems to be a suicide note from Tomomi Ishikawa. Not only does the note announce her death, but it invites Ben on an extraordinary treasure hunt that takes him through the streets of Paris and New York City. There are clues and hidden treasures that gradually reveal aspects of Tomomi Ishikawa that Ben did not know. They also appear to disclose a startling revelation: Tomomi Ishikawa is a murderer. Combining cleverly funny dialogue with quirky, enigmatic characters and a fantastic premise that will leave readers guessing, Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa will undoubtedly resonate long after the last page is finished.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The story opens with Ben and Tomomi Ishikawa imagining what Ben’s book will be about. The use of imagination is a key element for the characters, especially for Ben. He even has an imaginary cat whose behavior is restricted by “the laws of science” (p. 17). If he is a figment of Ben’s imagination, why can’t Ben imagine him talking or able to jump great distances? What does that say about Ben’s imagination? What purpose does Cat serve for Ben?

2. Why do you think Ben refrained from calling the police after reading Tomomi Ishikawa’s suicide letter?

3. In her letter to Ben, Tomomi Ishikawa compares sleep and death, the sandman and the grim reaper. She writes, “I wake in fear because, for all I long for death, I run from it like the coward I am. I drink in the hope of one day finding the courage to let go” (p. 39). Why do you think she longs for death?

4. In a letter to Tomomi Ishikawa, Ben writes, “Ever since writing was invented, people have been documenting their brains, giving names to ideas, noting their dreams, and distorting their memories and making up new ones,” and wonders, “What if nobody reads them?” (p. 165). Later he burns his journal pages from New York in order to light an underground passage in Paris and wonders, “Would I remember without my notes? Would it all still exist without these pages to remind me?” (p. 293). What power does the written word hold for Ben? If it is a way to record memory, what happens when memories are distorted? What does Ben think Tomomi Ishikawa is trying to achieve with her letters to him?

5. When Ben searches for the treasure in front of Tomomi Ishikawa’s old school, he thinks “of her, small and delicate, digging by herself in the night, touching the space that was touching my skin now, smelling the street and the dry earth, infringing on my personal space as if her memory were being projected inside me, like claustrophobia” (p. 185). Why does Tomomi Ishikawa send Ben on his adventure? Is it a treasure hunt or a confessional? What is Ben’s motivation to keep following her clues? If you were in Ben’s place, would you have kept following them?

6. Tomomi Ishikawa often tells Ben that she loves him. What is the nature of the relationship between Ben and Tomomi?

7. Ben suffers from prosopagnosia, a disorder where one cannot easily recognize faces. In what ways does it affect his interactions with others?

8. Do you believe Tomomi Ishikawa really committed the murders? Is she depressed as Ben suggests? Why do you think the author leaves it unclear?

9. At each death, Tomomi Ishikawa includes the last thoughts of her victims. Upon her own suicide, her last thoughts are included, but not from her point of view or Ben’s. Who has written her thoughts?

10. Why do you think the author named the protagonist after himself?

11. Ben always refers to Tomomi Ishikawa by her first and last names or her nickname, Butterfly. Do you think there is any difference in meaning between her name and nickname? Why does he never call her Tomomi?

12. In the story’s final letter, who is writing to whom? What are the three lives of Tomomi Ishikawa depicted in the novel?

13. Tomomi Ishikawa suggests to Ben that she could kill him, steal his identity and write the book herself. What would be the strategic advantage for her in doing so? Are there any clues to suggest this might be the case?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Look up Ben Constable’s website, www.Benjamin-Constable. net, to find fascinating additional information about the book, including photos of places mentioned in the story, additional writing that did not make the final edit, and stories about the writing of the book. The website also features some of Ben’s short stories, articles, and even music.

2. Ben Constable, the author, named his main character after himself. After reading his biography on his website, what similarities can you distinguish between Ben the author and Ben the character? As an exercise, have members of your group write a fictional paragraph or two with themselves as their main characters. Discuss how you each chose your topics, how strange (or natural) it was to write yourselves as protagonists, and note the similarities between authors and characters.

3. Tomomi and Ben often meet in Paris to drink wine, and even while Ben was in New York City, he needed a bottle of French red to solve one of Tomomi Ishikawa’s clues. Bring a lovely French wine to your meeting—a Ch.teau Lafite Rothschild if you want to splurge, or a more modest bottle, perhaps at the recommendation of your wine merchant. If wine is inappropriate, consider creating a yogurt bar with different toppings. Include almonds if you wish, but skip the bitter toffee variety!

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The Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Ben­jamin Con­sta­ble is an imag­i­na­tive novel. This is the debut novel for a very promis­ing new writer. Tomomi “But­ter­fly” Ishikawa com­mit­ted sui­cide but left her best friend, Ben­jamin Con­sta­ble, a trail of clues which lead him from Paris to New York and back – the cities she called “home”. Ben is search­ing for jour­nals and notes left specif­i­cally for him. Ben goes on his quest which gets stranger with each new find­ing. With his imag­i­nary cat and a girl which helps him around the unfa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ries in New York, Ben dis­cov­ers new aspects of his friend which he never imagined. Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Ben­jamin Con­sta­ble is an imag­i­na­tive and some­what inter­est­ing novel. I loved the way it was writ­ten, with a slight of hand and a healthy sense of humor, but as the story pro­gressed it started to fall a bit flat. The one enigma which is con­stant through­out the book and in between the lines is the rela­tion­ship between Tomomi Ishikawa and Ben­jamin Con­sta­ble. That rela­tion­ship is con­fus­ing to say the least because there is one real rela­tion­ship and two imag­i­nary ones: the real rela­tion­ship and the fic­tional his to hers and hers to his. While I think it was a great premise and some­thing that would cer­tainly be applic­a­ble to real life, the rela­tion­ship between the char­ac­ters and between the rela­tion­ships them­selves was never really explored. As much as I try I can­not char­ac­ter­ize this book, I admire Mr. Con­sta­ble for writ­ing a novel which defies a genre. I think that part of the enjoy­ment of this book is that it defies nor­mal con­ven­tions – it’s part mys­tery, part thriller, part com­edy, part tragedy, a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller and a love story all mixed in together. It seems that Mr. Con­sta­ble has put much work and thought into this book and had either very good advice or read his own story as if he is read­ing some­one else’s work. The nar­ra­tor (Mr. Con­sta­ble him­self) is always a step ahead of the reader nar­rat­ing this quirky story with a wink and a smile. The novel is a fas­ci­nat­ing read, if only for the lit­er­ary strolls through New York City and Paris, the char­ac­ters are inter­est­ing as well as a story which has sev­eral angles all told by the same nar­ra­tor. Not all plot points are neatly tied up in this book, much like real life, even the end­ing is ambigu­ous but in my opin­ion, the end­ing didn’t really mat­ter. Dis­claimer: I got this book for free
Humbee More than 1 year ago
THE BOOKISH DAME REVIEWS : This is an odd little book. One of those that starts out feeling contrived and suddenly sinks its teeth in you and won't let go. It simply "grows on you." I confess I didn't like it to begin with, but the more I decided to give it a chance, the more I liked it. The author has a way of causing his characters to become endearing as you read the quandary of Ben to find Butterfly's clues to her mysterious self and the "task" she's set him. Ben is immediately captivating. He's the proverbial innocent boy-next-door who needs someone to shake up his life; and, Butterfly seems the perfect, quirky girl to do just that. What I also really loved about the book was the details about Paris...some odd little tidbits. And I liked the glimpses into the computer and journal life of Butterfly as she led Ben on and left her "clues." New York looked pretty awesome in this author's eyes, as well! This isn't a book for everyone. I'd say it's rather a quest into something unusual and a taste of something a little sweet 'n sour off the shelves. I loved it, but it may not be for everyone's tastes. One of those books you have to sit back and let take you on a serendipitous trip... 4 stars Deborah/TheBookishDame
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
There's a lot of quirkiness in this book. The main character, Ben, is named after the author. At one point, Ben has this odd fixation with having "the dead on his shoes" after visiting Ground Zero. There's a non-talking, but quite communicative, imaginary cat who appears throughout. Then there's an unusual friendship with Tomomi Ishikawa, who has a deeply tragic past, and puts Ben on a twisted sort of scavenger hunt all over Paris and New York. Right around the time I started to wonder "why is Ben continuing on with this game?" or "okay, I think things are about to slow" a character would answer my question, or the author would change direction. The author certainly has the mind of a reader, and at times it felt like he was in my head. Constable writes with a lot of attention to detail, especially the use of language. I enjoyed the more realistic portrayal of communicating in a non-native language, and the awkwardness that can result. The dialogue always felt very real, very natural, like overhearing a conversation. And Constable writes some amazing sentences! My favorite: "Now the room was empty and the hushed sound of a hundred people reading dissolved into a quieter silence."  This book was an adventure, to be sure. But I was left feeling sort of... toyed with. Ben would say these random, mundane things and I'd think, "What?! Is this going to be important? Will this have a deeper meaning?" I was on pins and needles so much of the time, but I'm not sure where it led. A few times I got downright angry, and toward the end I felt there were almost too many twists. When I finished, I was left with a kind of surreal, what-just-happened? feeling. And I'm not sure if I'm ticked off by it, or completely and utterly delighted! Discussion questions for Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa are included at the end of the book, as well as a few "Enhance Your Book Club" ideas. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
CherylM-M More than 1 year ago
This was one of those books that you remember. For the sublime quality of the actual plot. Perhaps for the quirkyness of the characters. Possibly just for the feeling you get at the end when you realize you have read something quite extraordinary. The dream of many a bookworm and author, that one book you go back to over and over again. If you're very lucky it will happen with many books, but not everyone has the pleasure of discovering the work of scribes that stay embedded in the depths of your mind. I can't even tell you exactly why this book is one of those for me. I also can't tell you whether it will be that way for you. Towards the end I found myself rushing forwards in thought to the ending I was sure would come, then having to backtrack when it didn't. To relay any details at all would spoil the twists and turns that are plotted with an almost devious mind-set, so I won't. What I will say is that it was both playful in its darkness and vast in its depth. Truly a joy to read. I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley.
reececo331 More than 1 year ago
Ben Constable, loves his drinking buddy, there share many great nights, and times in Paris, until one day when he comes home to find a note from Butterfly that he never expected, and it sends him on an adventure to find out about her life and all the things that happened to her. very intriguing and very dynamic story that brings to life many aspects of creativity, love, and memory. There is a secret tour of New York its people, history, and places.
fuzzmom More than 1 year ago
This is a book different from any one you may have read before. Suicide, a quest, a strange friendship, all these intertwine into a curiously compelling story. Ben Constable and Tomomi Ishikawa are friends. They enjoy hanging out together, talking, but just friends. Then one day Tomomi slides a note under Ben's door. A strange blend of a suicide note and the beginnings of a treasure hunt. Follow along with Ben as he mourns his friend and finally decides to follow the clues to see where they lead, and maybe figure out why his friend killed herself. From Paris to New York and back again, Ben follows the clues, but begins to suspect that things are not what they seem. I won't spoil the end but you certainly aren't expecting it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What I liked about the novel: There is no putting this book down. You open the first page and you're confused. You read more and you're still confused, but now curious. By the time you get to the premise of the novel, you realize the next several hours will be lost to these chapters. I like the humor between the lines, and the dark in the character's minds, and the light in their intentions. I like Benjamin Constable the character and I even enjoy Tomomi Ishikawa. In fact, it is Tomomi Ishikawa who makes you read more. Just like Ben, you are flipping page after page, following along in this scavenger hunt through Paris and NYC, and you're flippin' tired, but you have to see how it ends. What I didn't like about the novel: There is no putting this book down. Tomomi Ishikawa is an addiction, and you are sucked into her gruesome life along with Ben. By the closure of the book you are clawing for resolution. (I guess I should go back up and add under the "likes" that Benjamin Constable the writer does not disappoint when it comes to resolution). The only real negative thing I have to say is that every setting in books feels foreign to me, whether I know the place or not, and I don't know the streets of Paris or NYC to relate. So here I admit, I skimmed the directions and locations quite a bit because I couldn't place them and they belong to people who know them. For me, they remain confusing and maze-like and served their purpose for getting lost with Ben. Would I recommend the novel: Yes, abso-friggin-lutely.You're a moron if you don't read this novel, and I will not-so-silently judge you if you don't love the book as much as I do. I have never read a book quite like this -- as frustrating, as honest, as thought-provoking. Maybe it has been done before, but I've never found one, making it the only one like it in the world to me. It is exquisite, and exciting, and several other adjectives starting in "ex". It leaves you thinking about life and your perspective of it against someone else's. It creates the imprint that you and I, mostly me, know nothing while knowing a lot, and what is real versus what is perceived real is indeterminable. And there's more, there's just few words for more and Mr. Constable the writer is much better at them. What I'm trying to say is: Buy the freakin' book.