Critical etiquette may demand a gentle Spoiler Alert here, but I'm going to give you the last couple of sentences from Fiona Campbell's Death of a Salaryman:
When Kenji turned round to walk away in the opposite direction, he spotted a cherry blossom petal float by on the breeze. It landed on the ground by his feet.
Death of a Salaryman takes place, it may not surprise you to learn from the above, in Japan: the various blurbs explain that the author spent several months working in Tokyo, and her experiences (filtered through a Creative Writing MA at Manchester Met) provided the inspiration for her debut novel.
Clearly, Campbell has only half-listened to the warning trotted out to all first-time authors: write about what you know. OK, she's been to Tokyo: but she's not Japanese and (unlike her protagonist, Kenji), she's not a 40-year-old salaryman who's just been fired from his job with a TV company.
To an extent, this doesn't matter: the story is fairly universal. The meek wageslave who won't admit the change in circumstances to his family has become an archetype of modern fiction, from John Lanchester's Mr Phillips, to Tom Wilkinson's character in The Full Monty; and the whole idea of a critique of capitalism through the prism of the disappointed bourgeois takes us back to the the play referenced by Campbell's title. Sure, there are quintessentially Japanese bits of set decoration: Kenji attempts to find redemption in pachinko; a minor character is crushed by a Godzilla statue. But these superficialities could easily be replaced with fruit machines and Bart Simpson. The weirdly voyeuristic reality show that Kenji concocts might have been believable only in Japan a decade ago, but now it wouldn't look out of place on BBC3.
At every step, I was comparing Campbell's story to Fear and Trembling, by Amélie Nothomb, and the former was found wanting. Nothomb's is the story of an outsider trying to come to terms with the oddness Japanese society, and we learn as her heroine does. Campbell offers us salaryman as everyman, a global citizen. Which is heartwarming, but does raise a fundamental question: why did she bother to set her book in Japan at all?