As with Tsushima's Child of Fortune, the narrator doesn't seem a particularly good mother (one of the differences being that in CoF the protagonist is in the third person rather than the first as of ToL which makes the neglect seem worse in ToL). In one episode she loses her child at the park and after an initial panic more or less gives up looking for her. In another episode she leaves her child asleep in the flat while she goes out and gets drunk. Later she palms the little girl off on a neighbour for free childcare. Perhaps this is normal in Japan.
The prose is very flat. Mostly things happen and there is dialogue; there seems to be little exploration of feelings. In The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu compares "Chinese brush paintings ... full of blank spaces" with " classical oil paintings ... filled with thick, rich, solid colours." Perhaps the same is true of Japanese literature. Certainly I have that feeling from the Tsushima novels that I have red, as well as The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe. This is not to deny that ToL some wonderful moments of description, such as: "When I lifted my face to the sky, the berries in their grapelike clusters gleamed an opulent red against its blueness." (Red Lights) Fundamentally, Tsushima's technique seems to be to aim for precision and clarity of expression, simplifying as far as can be done, and to allow emotions to be inferred from the actions and speech of each character.
Her prose is certainly elegantly exquisite and this book seems like a carefully crafted miniature. It drops hints rather than overacting.
Some great moments:
- "Why were children the only ones who ever got to melt down." (Sunday in the Trees)
- "Growing up is overrated, if you ask me. If I'd known adult life would be this boring, I'd have had more fun while I could." (The sound of a Voice)
- "The way nightmares vanish and anxieties evaporate when you open your eyes is one of life's pleasures." (Red Lights)
- "Stars! The colder it is, the more clearly they appear." (The Body)
March 2020; 122 pages