Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Recently published by Portobello Books The Vegetarian is translated by Deborah Smith, glancing at the book's jacket you'd be slightly forgiven for failing to notice that hidden amongst the petals of flowers you can make out a tongue, fingers, a slab of meat, and on the back a single eyeball stares out from amongst the flowers, it's a slightly disconcerting blend of flesh and vegetation, something which figures largely within the novel. Han Kang comes from a literary family and has been awarded many literary awards, including the Yi Sang Literary Prize, for the story Mongolian Mark, a line from a poem by Yi Sang provided the inspiration to the story The Vegetarian, that states; I believe humans should be plants, this is another aspect seen in one of the leading characters of the novel. The Vegetarian is made up of three chapters that, almost in relay fashion, follow the story line of it's main protagonist, Yeong-hye. That said the book ostensibly follows two sisters, Yeong-Hye and also In-hye, although the perspectives that we see them from shifts in being from related characters, in the central story Mongolian Mark the narrative focuses on Yeong-hye's brother in law, a video artist who finds himself estranged from his own works, who fixates on his sister in law's, Mongolian mark, which has surprisingly not faded away as she has got older. Mongolian Mark picks up on the events of the preceding story The Vegetarian that sees the disintegration of Yeong-hye's marriage, which sees Yeong-hye turn vegetarian after having a dream, which throughout the story is initially described in italicised fragments. Throughout the opening story Yeong-hye stays steadfast to her vegetarianism, at a meal with her husband's work colleagues she refuses to eat meat which causes an incident her husband tries to contain by describing that she is a vegetarian due to medical reasons. As the story progresses it slowly becomes apparent that Yeong-hye's vegetarianism is leading more toward a fully blown eating disorder associated to her having a nervous breakdown, which culminates in a family gathering for a meal ending with Yeong-hye having meat forced upon her and a suicide attempt. Toward the end of the story elements of Yeong-hye's family background emerge, her violent father and characters that feature later in the book begin to appear, her brother in law, and her sister, In-hye.

Han Kang's prose deftly explores the fissures in her character's lives, predominantly the men that appear in the book are on the whole unforgivably base, the violence of her father, the neglect of her husband, who is later referred to as the more formal Mr Cheong in the latter part of the novel. At the same time within the book Han Kang explores the strengths of her characters as in the final story Flaming Trees, which sees In-hye reflect and summarises on her past and events of the book that have led to this point, In-hye visit's Yeong-hye in hospital now being force fed and on the brink of wasting away. Flaming Trees subtly continues the metaphor at play in the centre of the book, of humans as plants, Yeong-hye is at times overwhelmed by the feeling that she has an inner plant that is trying to find expression through various episodes in the book, at times she exposes her self to the sun which seems to appear as an attempt at temporary photosynthesis. The central theme in Mongolian Mark is that Yeong-hye's brother in law fixates on her Mongolian mark which inspires him to create a film of her painted with flower motifs on her body. An aspect that lies at the edges of the reader's suspicion is that of Yeong-hye's mental state, is her brother in law taking advantage of her, although she gives her consent and her enthusiasm for the project is a surprise to her brother in law, as much as it is to the reader.

During Mongolian Mark the marriage between Yeong-hye's brother in law with her sister, In-hye begins to come into focus in the narrative, and the brother in laws pursuit of his art knows no bounds, after persuading an artist friend, J, to also take part in the filming, but things don't go to plan and In-hye makes the discover of the subject of her husband's film with Yeong-hye. Han Kan's prose traces the lines and cracks with the things that bind her characters, pursuing desires contained and those seeking expression, at times uncontrollably and examines their consequences. The Vegetarian looks into the darker side of it's character's psychologies which glances equally between causes and consequences which grips across the triptych of stories presented here, I hope further translations appear in the near future.   

The Vegetarian at Portobello Books                 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Domu: A Child's Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo

 Unfortunately funds don't currently stretch to being able to afford the complete omnibus of all three parts of Domu - A Child's Dream, (translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith), so for the time being I'm having to make do with the first instalment, it's a slight temple scratcher as to why this isn't more readily available, being from the creator of Akira, you'd assume that it would be available in multiple formats 24 7, but there we go. It's been a long while since I've watched Akira and I'd have to confess that I've not reached a reading of the volumes as of yet either, although reading a little about Domu online there appears to be a slight crossover between the works, whether this becomes more apparent in volumes Two and Three I can't yet say. Much of the idea for Domu apparently came from Otomo's own experiences after first moving to Tokyo where he lived in an apartment block with a large number of cases of suicide, the setting of Domu is in a danchi, the Tsutsumi Public housing complex, that has seen 25 deaths in 3 years, the story opens with Mr Ueno jumping from the roof, which thereafter leads to the case being investigated by Inspector Yamagawa. These scenes alternate a little between seeing the police ruminate on the case and going over the past history of the mysterious deaths, with that of being introduced to some of the notable characters of the block, who'll feature again as the story begins to unfold, Mrs Tezuka, who suffered a miscarriage late in her pregnancy term, Yoshio Fujiyama, a man who lives with his mother, Fujiyama is suspected of being a child molester, who despite his age has the mental age of a 5 year old, he's given the nickname of Little Yo, Yoshikawa an alcoholic who at some point in his past was involved in a truck accident, his son, Hiroshi begins to feature more prominently when a new family moves in and he plays with the daughter, Etsuko, Otomo contrasts the pair juxtaposing their return from play to their respective apartments, Etsuko chatting away describing, rather worryingly, that they've been playing with Little Yo, with that of Hiroshi returning to the apartment with his father sprawled out amongst bottles asking for him to bring him more beer. Another character who at first is described only as being Sasaki's son, (Tsutomu), seems to keep himself to himself, there is also old man Cho, who sits out on the bench all day so obvious he evades attention. 
The police locate a witness who saw Mr Ueno on the night of his suicide who remembers vividly his strange baseball cap which had been attached with a pair of angel wings, things get stranger when a police officer on patrol goes wandering and is also found to have jumped from the roof, and further still when Inspector Yamagawa pursues a voice mocking him for an episode in his past is lead to the roof, and sees the illuminated image of a spectral old man Cho hovering towards him, he suffers the same fate of those he has been investigating. In a way the first volume of Domu is a book of two halves, in the second, much of the action is seen through Etsuko's eyes, she spies old man Cho's levitation tricks, and the attention shifts to him as being the malevolent force that is behind all of the strange deaths, his head appears to rise up out of the table in Yoshikawa's flat as if it were poking up out of water. Needless to say the artwork in Domu is breath taking, Otomo's drawing is awe inspiring to study, and despite the impression of the vastness of the danchi, there remains a certain claustrophobic element in his depiction of it, looking at his buildings it's understandable that he is a source of inspiration for subsequent generations of artists, in particular one maybe being Hisaharu Motoda whose book Neo Ruins is still one that remains prominent on the wants list.
Another Inspector arrives to take up the case who also begins to hear voices prompting him to leave the complex, but whose voice is it?, old man Cho's?, Yamagawa's?, no doubt all will be explained in the subsequent volumes. The end of volume one culminates with Sasaki's son who we see studying hard in his room, then being distracted by his hobby of making model aeroplanes, as we watch him old man Cho's spectral presence is seen hovering outside of his window and then entering the room. Otomo plays these culminating scenes off of one another to maximum affect, with the scene of old man Cho appearing in Yoshikawa's flat left unresolved, but Etsuko bumps into Tsutomu Sasaki on an errand ending the first volume on a rather gory note. In Domu Otomo explores a dark psychology, which points to the conundrum of who is actually being used by who, no doubt nothing is to be taken at face value, although I'm not sure as to how it's plot will resolve itself I'm glad to have become acquainted with it's first instalment.                            
Domu: A Child's Dream at Dark Horse
further synopsis at Wikipedia     

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Salad Anniversary

Pushkin continue to excel in breathing new life into older titles with Salad Anniversary by Tawara Machi, a poetry collection that was a phenomenal bestseller, notching up sells that went into the millions of copies when it was published back in the late1980's, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Salad Anniversary was previously published in translation in an edition from Kodansha International, and has been given an attractive new jacket by artist Mio Matsumoto, (My Diary). Salad Anniversary contains fifteen poems in tanka style, many of which are concerned with the transitory nature of love, both attained, unattained and lost, that shift from the thematic to the literal. Tawara received the Kadokawa Tanaka Prize for her poem August Morning which is the books opening poem, the tone of the poems retain their freshness, although the tell tale mention on a number of occasions of the Southern All Stars, slightly displays and gives their age away, although this adds very much to the dimensions of the book and reflects the age of Tawara's poetry.
An aspect that prevails through the poems is a subtle sense of solitude, through the observations of relationships there are also many acute observations of the age which cast a glance to the generational gap between Tawara's generation with that of her father's, as in the short poem Morning Necktie, a tender portrait of her father with his half anxious criticism of her writing poetry, the poem remains not a harsh indictment but has an undeniable human, and in places tender quality to it, laced with a quiet humour, he sips his tea as if to say   "I'm not listening",  and observes how he continues to unhesitatingly call his wife mother, continuing the childhood domestic scene beyond it's need, the poem closes with forgiveness for her father's generation's  inability to express tenderness.   
The collection offers up many moments where Tawara's narratives are seeking to find their place in the bigger schemata of things or perhaps to realise their own form in relation to it and also in relation to the men that figure in the poems. In I Am the Wind, the narrator relates her relationship with a man who feels very much as being a political activist or with having political concerns, the poem observes the degrees of attention divided between her affections for him with that of his thoughts and relationship with his own political world view, these observations alternate throughout the poem as they study her thoughts of him, these at one point seem to congregate around a supposition of things seen through her contact lenses as she takes them out to clean them, the relationship teeters between existence and non-existence, diary entries kept blank filled in with pencil, the observations seem to plateau when the narrator visits a Van Gogh exhibition, stepping from picture to picture only to see her own image reflected in the glass in their frames. An added aspect that operates subtly in the background to the poems is that of the flowing of time, I Am the Wind starts with a letter written and of time beginning after the sticking of the stamp.  
The poem after this is Summertime Ship which relates a ferry trip to Shanghai, where things seen juxtapose the familiar with the unfamiliar, it too is a poem that is full of observations concerning the perceptions of the relationship between the narrator and the wider world. The poem takes in the sights and sounds of the visit, and ends with the narrator returning and setting off through the streets of Tokyo in the t-shirt worn which saw the Yangtze, the poem acts to document and witness the excursion. The title poem sees the narrative coming from a house wife whom it feels is in a marriage devoid of real love, a husband setting off for work, whilst carrying out domestic chores she dreams of Goa, the poem feels, as does most of the collection, to be tinged with the bitter sweetness of thwarted expectations, although they remain to question and reflect on standard demarcations of societal perceptions. Tawara's poems take their cue from first and last things, where the present day often or not acts as a spring board into reflections past and future, Pushkin Press have done a great job in making this landmark collection readily available again, Salad Anniversary is also accompanied with Juliet Winters Carpenter's afterword from 1989. Many thanks to Pushkin Press.     
Salad Anniversary at Pushkin Press
at Amazon                        

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yukio Mishima - Damian Flanagan - Critical Lives

The momentum of books on Mishima Yukio continues after the recently mammoth addition to the canon with Persona comes a more concise book from Damian Flanagan, an award winning translator of Soseki Natsume, published as part of the admirable Critical Lives Series by Reaktion Books. Flanagan's Mishima starts with Mishima's final hours, describing the sequence of events of Mishima's attempted coup before reversing back to examine how his early years were influenced by being torn between the overbearance of his grandmother with that of his mother and also of his father, who disapproved of his tendencies towards writing, this is described as instilling a trauma in the young Kimitake and there are similes made between the state of post-war Japan with that of Mishima's psyche, a pulling between adopting and attraction to Westernization with that of preserving Japan's traditional identity and characteristics.
Centre to this book Flanagan points to an event that he feels is perhaps overlooked in other books that have appeared about him, that after graduating Mishima received a watch from the Emperor, time would remain a central facet to Mishima, Flanagan points that the taking off of his watch was one of the last actions he undertook, and throughout the book highlights other incidences where time played a crucial part in his life, his strict adherence to publisher's deadlines, most affectively Flanagan points to Mishima's sense of the forces of time culminating in his writing of The Sea of Fertility, wanting to write a 'world explaining book' that would also transcend time itself, whilst writing the instalments of the book, Flanagan deftly demonstrates that for Mishima, time was running out, and aptly describing the events of November 25th as Japan's JFK day, the documentary The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima points out that a reportedly 10,000 people turned out for his funeral, Flanagan's conceptual or thematical approach in describing the events surrounding the writing of The Sea of Fertility and November 25th is a refreshing approach, in addition to it he also explores the significance of the sea in Mishima's writing as being a place void of time, these contrasts run parallel to the polarities found in Mishima himself, transforming himself from the aloof pale young man to the body builder of his later years, time seems to be at the heart of the writer who felt himself an anachronism at the age of twenty.    
As with the other biographies of Mishima what comes across succinctly is his prolificness as a writer, perhaps something that was encouraged by his mother who would provide ink and paper for him, it seems his writing schedule would begin at 11 at night, warming up with lighter stories and then moving onto his more literary works, Mishima's writing career and influences are chronicled, a striking image is that of the launch of A Forest In Full Bloom held in a blacked out restaurant during the bombing raids, and of his father resignedly accepting Mishima's writing career with the observation that due to the war he'd be dead soon anyway, reading of his initial ventures into his career as a writer there's a feeling that with his connections with the owners of a paper factory in a time of strict paper rationing this might have been a factor that perhaps may have tilted the balance slightly to his favour. Among his influences it always comes as a slight surprise that although Cocteau and Radiguet are often name checked, Genet's seems to be absent, Flanagan explores the Mishima - Dazai relationship/influence, and among other writers mentions the folklorist Shinobu Orikuchi, (Shisha no Sho), who Mishima gave a fictional portrait in the short story Mikumano Mōde translated by John Bester as Acts of Worship. Throughout the book there is mention of film adaptions of Mishima's works and those that he acted in, perhaps a filmography would have made an interesting addition to the bibliographies at the end of the book, the link between Japanese literature and cinema is a fascinating one.  
Toward the end of the book Flanagan summarises Mishima in relation to contemporary writers, noting in a way that in terms of writers being recognised in the West that the baton has been passed to Murakami Haruki, with the observation that Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase begins on the significant date of November 25th, throughout the book it's mentioned that Mishima was also consciously aware of trends in the zeitgeist, at times this was more successful than others, as with the success of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion over the subsequent court case surrounding After the Banquet's publication. Mishima left many enigmas behind, and to fully gauge the extent of his legacy would be interesting to estimate, maybe it would take a manga adaption of Kamen no kokuhaku to find Mishima at the centre of things again within a contemporary setting, but Mishima's abhorrence of the materialistic way of life still has relevance and leverage for the twenty first century. Essentially the book is inspiring and erudite wanting you to turn to the novels and the writing again, discussing Thirst For Love from 1950 we learn that Mishima had toyed with the idea of Etsuko's perspective being that from a male one, which spurns a reappraisal of this writer who pursued things to their fullest degree.
Yukio Mishima is part of the Critical Lives Series at Reaktion Books

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi

A book I've found myself purposefully taking my time with, The Guest Cat was originally published by New Directions and recently again in an edition from Picador, in a translation from Eric Selland. The prose as you may expect has a poetic quality, Hiraide's poetry is also available in translation in For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut, not only can this poeticism be felt in the prose but also in some of the imagery that it conjures up; a pair of mating birds observed by the narrator fly away as one beating heart, and with it there are a number of originally imaginative concepts, one being the house the couple live in with it's optical phenomena obfuscating the reflections in it's glass windows of it's passers-by. The Guest Cat brings together various strands and moments in transition, set in a Tokyo suburb the central narrator is an editor, who turns writer, and his wife who are renting an outbuilding and through circumstances with the family who own the main house they find themselves having to move out and find a new place to live, the book is made up with short observational chapters that at the end of the book the narrator confirms have been compiled from journal entries and essays written for various publications. An added sense of transition is felt also in the time period that the book crosses, that of the passing of the Shōwa period, and the dawning of the Heisei, the narrator notes the inflating and unaffordable price of property, marking the demise of the bubble economy, when starting out on their search for alternative accommodation, but at the centre of the book is the appearance of a cat who visits the couple.

The tone of the narrative is on the whole a deeply contemplative one, it subtly shifts emanating at times from the interior with glances to the exterior and throughout and central to it is the enigma of the cat's appearance. Through the chapters the narrator attempts to decode it's contrary nature through observation and subtle experiment, obviously metaphors can be drawn and parallelled between the mystery of the cat with that of the wider predicaments of the narrator's life, and it's unavoidable to be reminded of Wagahai wa Neko de Aru, although it obviously bears and displays more of a contemporary tone, The Guest Cat ventures into exploring the spatial quality of human relationships, and subtly shifting on to notions of mortality, similar to Soseki's novel with a central feline guest. The simplicity of the prose deftly transforms the density of some of the larger themes that before you realise it you find yourself in the midst of contemplating, some of these are conveyed in some of the observational imagery, the snapshot battle being carried out between a kamakiri and a semi, most of these set amongst the repeated appearance of the Keyaki trees in the grounds of the house, a deeply rewarding and contemplative read.  

The Guest Cat at New Directions and Picador

The New Modernism


Thursday, September 25, 2014

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize 2013 - 2014

The 2013-2014 winner of the William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize has recently been announced through the Prize's website. The winning translation by Edith Sarra and Yasuko Ito Watt of - 3/11: Temporary Shelter by Takuya TANAKA is available to read via the site along with an introduction to the text and an afterword.

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize 2013-2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Crimson Thread of Abandon - Stories by Terayama Shūji

For those familiar with Terayama and his poetry, films, (most famously perhaps, Emperor of Tomato Ketchup and Pastoral: Death in the Country), and his plays, this book will be a welcome addition, in some ways it could be said to be able to appreciate the book without considering it in light with the rest of Terayama's output and life could be a difficult thing to do, but whilst reading these stories it's hard not to hear echoes of the music of Julius Arnest Seaer playing somewhere in their backgrounds. To read these stories you'll maybe finding yourself putting the external world on hold for a while, entering Terayama's world is like finding yourself in a slightly phantasmic version of Lewis Carroll's, spread across them some characters reappear, Mizue, who could be described perhaps as Terayama's Alice, and also there's Smokey the cat, although references aside, in Terayama there's a feeling that eventually everything becomes subverted. Throughout these stories characters appear that feature in his films, sailors, boxers, travelling troupes, another repeating motif is the game of hide and seek, in one, Hide-and-Not-Go-Seek, the narrator plays the game and taking a dislike to one boy sees him hide down a drain, seeing a lorry reversing which is carrying a load of lumber he instructs the driver to dump it on top of the man hole cover, the game finishes without the boy in the drain re-appearing, unnervingly, much to the indifference to the narrator. Years later he returns to his hometown and passing the drain on a nostalgic stroll he peeks inside half expecting to find the boy's bones, entering it he struggles to see but looking up the boy, un-aged, appears and closes the cover down on him and the sound of heavy objects being placed on the cover is heard. Reading these stories you get the slight feeling that you're being assaulted by the breadth of Terayama's flights of inexhaustible imagination, and they are to be wondered at.

Another re-occurring element is that of the cut out, characters come into existence by having their names cut from other books, in another story words are brought to life by being cut out of the page, a conundrum arises with the word love, how will it manifest itself when it's cut out and appears in the physical world?, Terayama offers possible answers to the reader in the style of a number of multiple choice options, we decide, this switch in offering the reader a perspective on the creation process is offered in other stories, how would we write it, he offers us the pen?. But if you were to pick up this book without any prior knowledge of Terayama or the rest of his oeuvre you'd be hard pressed not to be caught in his world, the stories have a slightly quick fire-ness to them, characters can be introduced in the time it takes to finish the end of a sentence, their directions take turns into different trajectories in equal amounts of space. In Flame a town suffers the fate that all the fires go out, to the extent that a neighbouring volcano sinks into smoking dormancy, one of the characters ponders as to whether the town actually had a spark to begin with?, a plot develops that a flame will be kidnapped from a neighbouring town, but the plot is threatened by those committing a subterfuge, which includes a flock of dive bombing birds, but within the story lies another added layer, that of the theme of the purity of the flame of love.

Throughout these stories it feels that conventional storytelling is being dispensed with, although many of the stories retain preoccupations with the nature of fate, of course it's usually unfair and cruel, they retain though the feeling of being fables, albeit being distortedly viewed through a bell jar. Eraser, is another story where an everyday object becomes imbued with magical powers that provokes a double take at the commonplace, coming across an eraser that has the ability to erase physical objects, Johnny the Sailor jealously uses it to erase all the men in the life of the woman he falls in love with, but to the story Terayama adds a twist of fate that adds a further resonance to the tale. In The Elusive Milena, a camera is discovered to be able to take photographs 10 years into the future, and for all those who don't appear in their photograph it points in only one direction concerning their fates. A last note on another motif that appears in a number of these stories, that of characters multiplying, returning home to find themselves already there, being spotted out walking the streets when they haven't left their rooms, this gets it's deepest exploration in Remy's Quantum Realities, in which Remy multiples many times over, Terayama works in a reference to Euclid's axioms and leaves us the story with some homework to do at the end, how many Remys appeared in this story?. A beguiling collection, the book is published by Merwin Asia, an independent publisher, and is translated by Elizabeth L. Armstrong, who also provides an introduction.

The Crimson Thread of Abandon at Merwin Asia         

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ravine and Other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi

Couldn't help from noticing that Shinchosha celebrates 110 years of it's literary magazine Shinchō this year, from reading a review of their anniversary issue from May, the issue appears to include Kenzaburō Ōe and Furui Yoshikichi in conversation, which prompted me to turn to reading Furui again, as I've been meaning to since reading his short story Wedlock some time ago. As far as I've seen there are only three translations of Furui in English, Ravine and Other Stories, translated by Meredith McKinney, White Haired Melody, a novel, also translated by Meredith McKinney and also Child of Darkness: Yoko and Other Stories, translated by Donna George Storey, which contains Furui's Akutagawa Prize winning story, Yoko, aside from the Akutagawa Prize, Furui has also received the Tanizaki Prize, the Mainichi Cultural Prize, the Yomiuri Literary Prize and also the Kawabata Prize for his story, Nakayama-zaka/On Nakayama Hill, a translation of which is included here. Furui has been associated with the generation of writers often referred to as being from the naiko no sedai or the introverted generation -  内向の世代, spanning from the late sixties to the mid seventies, who would adopt more of an introverted style of writing, turning away from the overtly politically subjects of the times, the term was first used by the literary critic Odagiri Hideo.

In it's opening passages I couldn't help being nudged into recalling another story when starting to read Ravine, of it's remote mountain scape with the sound of a voice being heard, and of the narrative recalling a story of skeletal remains being found with all flesh rotted away save for a living tongue remaining within it's skull, this opening is reminiscent of one I'm sure by Nakagami Kenji. Ravine though turns from this to describing two climbers on a memorial climb for their fellow climber, Koike, resting in a cabin for the night they hear footsteps advancing outside and a man staggering in, falls down before them, dead. The story is overlaid with flashbacks of a climb all three had taken and of meeting a woman in the mountains who appears to take a suicidal leap into the sea, although she is rescued by a passing fishing boat, in places ambiguities arise as to the possibility of which figure that appears may represent which character more fully described within the story, who is the dying man?, perhaps this event appears to act as a spur to the subsequent recollections, some events are maybe presented as disconnected in Furui's stories, but they act to contribute to a thematic whole. Another element of this story is of Koike's marriage, the story has many enigmatic turns, and as with the other stories in this collection, the reader also gets the impression that although Furui's writing is full of acute and close-up observations it's not until finishing them that you can obtain the wider focus of their intent, whilst reading them despite their fine eye for intricateness they retain a sense of being impressionistic.

The next story, Grief Field/Aihara, also appears in Child of Darkness, translated by Donna George Storey as The Plain of Sorrows, the narrator relates the deteriorating state of a friend who has an incurable illness who disappears from his family to a woman whom he has been having an affair, although when with her he wanders to a plot of land allocated for re-development. The theme that the story seems to explore is that of the space between physical places and locations with that of the protagonist's psychological sense of their own grief, as well as the dying friend at the centre of this story, who, it could also be described as being in a state of grieving for himself, there are figures from each of the character's past whose passings are also subjects of grief, a sister who died in a love suicide, a mother dying prematurely, as well as feeling grief over these loses the protagonist's have acute perhaps subdued repressed feelings of guilt, as Furui's stories progress developments are revealed and hinted at but the fuller picture is often left for the after read.

The Bellwether stands out here as the narrative sees no real or direct character interaction with each other, being a fictional observational piece in which the narrator shares their thoughts on the nature of crowds on busy commuter stations and trains by making comparisons to the stampede of wild horses. Through these observations the narrator examines the nature of the individual in the crowd, of how interpretations of each other are made and envisages the crowd amidst and provoked into panic. Examining the crowd, the narrator's vision fixates on a single man whom he seems to encounter by chance at various points as he wanders in this narrative, observations of more individuals he sees turn to recollecting a man from the narrator's workplace, thoroughly competent in his work but 'initiates nothing by himself'. At a point in the narrative there appears a concluding observation that in order to preserve our own sense of equilibrium in a crowd we search out for the faces of 'docile sensible types' to reassure ourselves, the narrator later relates becoming involved in a skirmish between protesting students and the police, and of an unsuspecting visitor who visits him after being hospitalized to reiterate the point made earlier in the story. The Bellwether seems to display another characteristic in Furui's writing in that of his interest in exploring differing points of perspective, and of examining how different people view different people.

The collection concludes with On Nakayama Hill, which was awarded the Kawabata Prize, the story in a way has two main characters, one an old man, who is approaching death from an incurable disease, and also a young woman oversleeping on a train and finding herself a few stops away from where she wanted to be. The scene where the two first encounter each other has an interestingly described moment, where the old man grabs her to stop himself from falling over, and of her finding she can hear human voices emanating from him, these though are from the radio he listens to through his headphone, (s?). The old man walks up the hill to place bets at the horse races and due to his frail state asks her to go on ahead to make the bet for him after stopping at a tea shop. Furui's prose is glacial in slowly revealing the back drops of the pair's lives, of her uncertain affair and of the old man's intuitiveness, Furui's prose leaves the impression that nothing of the author is between the characters, the slowly observed unfolding of the stories events and the reader. As with this story there is the appearance of common themes to Furui's writing, the occurrence of aging and of ill health with the over arching and explorative theme being the nature of human mortality.  

Ravine and Other Stories at Stone Bridge Press


Thursday, September 4, 2014

and the winner is............

After putting all the names into the bag and picking one out at random, I'm pleased to announce that the lucky winner of a copy of Bullfight by Inoue Yasushi published by Pushkin Press, is Rise of in lieu of a field guide, so congratulations, the copy of Bullfight will be on it's way to you, looking forward to reading your post. My sincerest commiserations to those who were unlucky this time, but many thanks for entering and showing an interest, perhaps another giveaway post will appear again.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hunting Gun by Inoue Yasushi

The Hunting Gun/Ryōjū was Inoue's first book, published in 1949, Inoue received the Akutagawa Prize the following year for his book, Bullfight, although brief The Hunting Gun is remarkable for it's penetrating psychological portraits of three women, whose three perspectives are conveyed in three letters that are passed to the narrator at the beginning of this epistolary novella. What might strike the reader as feeling slightly out of place is the descriptions of the Western garb and paraphernalia of hunting, the English gun and cloth, for a novella of it's time these might've carried a slight surreality and out of place-ness. After contacting the narrator after being provoked by reading a poem he had written for a hunting magazine, Misugi Josuke passes him three letters, although the narrator is suspicious that Misugi might be a man of consequence and bearing lets it be known that he has changed all the names from their true ones, so we are left to contemplate the possibility that perhaps Misugi is not even Misugi. The first of the letters is from Misugi's niece, Shoko, who relates the events of the passing of her mother, Saiko, as her letter to her uncle progresses the first clues as to what lies at the novella's centre begin to come into focus. Shoko relates that she knows of their secret through reading her mother's frenetically written diary, this sadness is depicted poetically as she likens it to resembling a petal frozen in a paperweight given to her as a gift, this is one of a number of poetical images that Inoue imbues his prose with a disarming effect, and these resonate throughout, it's also interesting to contemplate that the narrative is brought into being through the reading of a poetical work. Another enigmatic character and event that lingers slightly out of sight of the novella's main narrative is of Shoko's father, Kadota Reiichiro, and of the more distant mystery of what had happened between him and Saiko that had caused them to part, all of these ruminations of failed marriages must of challenged the sensibilities of readers of the day.

Midori's letter adds another jigsaw piece of perspective to the story, wife of Misugi, her letter is both embittered with instances of their loveless marriage, the letter, paradoxically she envisages being the only love letter between them, and also in parts being confessional, seizing the opportunity in her proposed severance with him to provide portraits of the men that have in the past have potentially stole her affections or have been the object of her desires, these are varying both in being real and being projected. She describes seeing a portrait of a naked wild man living wild with a herd of goats in the Syrian desert, the jockey Tsumura whose eye were fixated on her, and also of the artist Matsuyo, all of these offer passing snapshot portraits of desires unfulfilled and hinted at, in some ways perhaps attempts at readdressing the act of betrayal that lies at the story's centre. Along with her unburdening letter there is included another symbolic snapshot motif that links the letters, that of an embroidered haori patterned with a thistle worn by Saiko, which represents her and Misugi's relationship.

Saiko's letter is the last, posthumously she describes the burden of her and Misugi's deception whilst giving a fuller picture to scenes hinted to in the previous letters, she recalls the night of wearing the haori, and of a stay in Atami, and within the letter Inoue imbues his prose with more poetical imagery, whilst staying at Atami the pair spy a burning fishing boat out at sea, and in spite of the casualties they envisage a cruel beauty in the burning vessel, later this same image is associated with Saiko's notion of womanhood. Between the presentation of these letters Inoue passes the right of judge to the reader, across the letters in The Hunting Gun we are given a portrait of the weakness and frailties of the human heart with all it's uncontrollable desires falling victim to itself, translated again by Michael Emmerich.

The Hunting Gun at Pushkin Press

Inoue Yasushi Literary Museum