The style of the prose is mostly straightforward and matter of fact which makes the dialogue sometimes seem over-formal. Perhaps this is a Japanese 'style'. It reminded me of what Cixin Liu is talking about in The Three Body Problem: "Chinese brush paintings are full of blank spaces, but life in Qijiatun had no blank spaces. Like classical oil paintings, it was filled with thick, rich, solid colours." I wondered whether this feeling of 'style' was linked to this. But in chapter two Tsushima describes the night thus: "It was still raining, a viscous, opaque rain. The steamy windows reduced the street scene to blurred shadows. The street lamps ... were circled by spreading blots of violet light." This felt very much like the "thick, solid colours" of westernised oil painting. Nevertheless, with this book and The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, another Japanese writer, there is a feeling of minimalism in the prose.
It is a short novel and the narrative seems unstructured; it is sometimes difficult to tell where memory ends and present day returns; Koko believes the father of her foetus is Osada on page 5 but since this is the only mention of him until well over half way through the book I wondered whether I had misunderstood and whether another of Koko's lovers, Doi, was the father.
Spoilers: There is structure. Koko's preganancy is revealed almost immediately but she doesn't tell her sister until just over the half-way mark and she doesn't discover that the pregnancy is imaginary until just over the 75% mark.
- Some of my favourite moments:
- "You have to compete with your own kind. If a bird imitated a fish, it would only drown." (C 2)
- "It was she who'd trampled her relationship with Doi underfoot - under the dirty feet of respectability." (C 2)
- "Lately she was more convinced than ever that there was no point in worrying what people thought. She would soon be thirty-seven. The only person watching Koko at thirty-seven was Koko." (C 2)
- "Over a dizzying span of years the universe repeats its rhythm of birth, collapse, and regeneration. ... The world is just a great illusion flowing emptily by; we mustn't be deceived. Where, then, should we seek the truth that passes into eternity? Hidden in the present, in a single instant, is the power to shatter the illusion. In this single present instant the eyes of eternity open, eyes that can penetrate the secrets of the movements of the cosmos." (C 2)
- "Her hands had melted into the baby's flesh as if squeezing an overripe banana." (C 5)
- "Why did she go on living still? There was no justification, none. ... whichever way she looked at herself, there wasn't a single redeeming feature to be found. They were wasting the food and clothes they gave her, and the place at school. The more she thought about it, the less reason she saw to carry on. Yet she made no attempt to die, and this very fact added to her humiliation. Dying was too frightening, after all, to be seriously contemplated." (C 7)
An interesting exploration of life in Japan. February 2020; 153 pages
Another elegant novel by Tsushima (with a very similar theme) is Territory of Light.