Today the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 draws to a close. Thank you Dolce Bellezza for hosting!
I planned to read eight books this year but only read seven. I did start and abandon an eigth – Mari Asakasa’s Vibrator. It was only short but I found the narrator’s world to be too disaffected and alienated for my liking. However, I can see why it won prizes in Japan.
My favourite reads this year were:
Audition by Ryu Murakami – absolutely fantastic! Hilarious and oh-so-wrong at the same time! Read it!
Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura – Very dark but also surprising.
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami – Oh so very odd. Highly memorable.
To see the whole list click here.
I really enjoy this challenge and this year I got sidetracked from my reading list by stumbling over a few titles I hadn’t heard of before. Next year I hope to follow my original plan and work through the back catalogues of authors I have previously discovered in this challenge – Ryu Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, Yoko Ogawa and Keigo Higashino.
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake. A tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.
This was a pleasant* story but it didn’t really do it for me. Not only did I find it a bit slow, I felt I had read something vaguely similar before, namely Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor which was originally published four years earlier than this novel and I felt it to be the superior of the two. The general story of a friendship between an older man and not quite so young anymore woman seems to be particular to Japanese literature so I don’t think Kawakami necessarily borrowed the idea. I just didn’t want to take the journey a second time this year.
This novel also presents a also a perfect case study for not judging a book by its cover. The cover implies a somewhat quirky and offbeat tale yet it is rather conventional with characters older than you would presume (not that I have a problem with their ages!). I personally don’t think the title fits the story, yet the other English title, The Briefcase, doesn’t seem a perfect suggestion either.
I’ve been wanting to read this for a while and am glad I finally got around to it. Despite being well written it has left me a little underwhelmed but I can see why it would be both a good winner for the International Mann Booker Prize and a good** taster for Japanese fiction.
*I was almost going to call it a nice story yet it wasn’t quite that bland.
**Now I am using good a lot.
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart for her son’s birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake even though he died in an accident when he was six years old. From this beginning Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative. Each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos and chilling in its cruelty.
First Impressions: I liked the writing style. The first story was good and I guessed the stories would get even better… I was right!
Highlights: I was amazed at how subtly all the stories carried on from each other and were linked. This did not feel forced or contrived as I had originally feared it would. A lot of the characters and plots appear over a few stories so it is hard to say which stories or characters I liked best but the narratives around Old Mrs J, Lab Coats and Tomatoes and the Full Moon were most memorable. Ogawa has the power to shock in these stories when you least suspect it and I did gasp out loud a few times when reading.
If I was an editor: Oh, some of the characters definitely deserve their own novel!
Overall: I think I picked up all the links to different characters and stories… At least I hope I did!
Revenge: 5 Stars