Thursday, October 5, 2017

Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa

As mention of another batch of titles in Pushkin's Japanese novellas begins to appear on the horizon time remains to catch up with another of the initial books, Hideo Furukawa's Slow Boat, translated by David Boyd. In the books Linear Notes Furukawa explains that the story is essentially a remix, or a cover version of the Murakami Haruki story, there are displays of the usual Murakami motifs, the jazz track - On a Slow Boat to China by Sonny Rollins, the boku narrator, and also the inclusion of multiple narrative voices. The story has the feel of a Bildungsroman, in places it also resembles  Murakami Ryu's 69. Aside from being sent to a summer camp for wayward kids at the story's opening, a lot of the story plays out in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, and as Furukawa's narrator circumnavigates the possible peripheries of the city, (who knows where they begin and end?), and it's potential escape routes the narrative moves amongst an anonymous hotel room, descriptions of the details of furnishings and contents, Furukawa's narrative questions visual spaces alongside emotional progress and the two merge convincingly. These hotel scenes and the Sonny Rollins track gain greater clarity and poignancy in the closing scenes, the book is made up of rather than chapters but boats, Boat 1, Boat 2, etc.

Despite it's brevity the pace of the prose is pitch perfect, for a while we skip between episodes of recounting past girlfriends and additional narrative interludes, or chronicles, provided by Kaku Nohara, glimpsing into the events of lost years, 1994, Y2K giving the main narrative a broader context and perspective, the two overlap, a memorable scene of the narrator loosing it on a packed commuter train after being given an ultimatum from a departing girlfriend in pursuit of her destiny, that is one of many here, the name of his restaurant being decided after a misreading is another. At the end of the book you're left contemplating differences, Furukawa's prose here is faster paced, feels more edgier, more in your face, although remaining a homage with a lot of respect and originality.

Slow Boat at Pushkin Press 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Territory of Light - The Sound of a Voice

The Sound of a Voice takes us into August, within a few pages it feels that the narrator is being immersed into potential schemes by her estranged husband, Fujino, into not going through with the separation, through two people, an old female acquaintance, who herself has been through a divorce and also a professor friend both trying to persuade her into not going through with the separation, but to what extent the powers of their persuasion will make maybe seen to develop in the next chapters.

Through the book's chapters so far it's apparent through the prose of the narrator's observations of her state of fragility through this point of dramatic transition in her and her daughter's life, perhaps in this chapter this is felt in the scene of them attending an August festival at their local shrine, presumably for the obon festival, this fragility is felt when they are joined by a friend of her daughter's from the day care centre she attends in playing with fireworks, the observations of her daughter's disappointed reactions as the fireworks fizzle out, and through other scenes throughout the chapters where it's felt that for the narrator life is filled and consumed with the coping of constantly spinning plates, through work and caring for her daughter, and of course the trials of the separation.

Another observation of this chapter is Tsushima's ability of building correlations within her writing, even amongst the brevity of these chapters, in economic prose she bridges deeply emotional and engaging scenes between the reader and the themes her narrators face. Although the over arching theme of the book is light, in The Sound of a Voice it feels briefly that the motif switches to being that of falling, throughout the chapter scenes of falling are perused upon, an uncertain memory from  school days is recounted, the potential of her daughter falling from the apartment window, as the narrator spies her daughter's origami papers that have been dispatched from their window and have landed on their neighbour's roof, to an actual fatal event that occurs to a boy from the daycare centre, these incidents, although separate feel they have an underlying connecting element. In addition, as seen in previous chapters there's the impression that the narrator has a sixth sense in perceiving these episodes which lends the scope of the narrative a broader, perhaps ethereal panorama.

Finishing The Sound of a Voice it feels there's been a slight digress to the ongoing central plot of the separation, but it paints a portrait of the narrator caught again in the ongoing emotional flux of her situation, voices of persuasion and of the narrator's clairvoyant sense of the flow of the undercurrents of surrounding events and the detection of nuances of societal pressures are adding to the atmosphere to the book's progress and the enigma of it's conclusion.

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima is published in April 2018 by Penguin Classics



Sunday, August 27, 2017

Territory of Light - A Dream of Birds

July's chapter of Territory of Light feels shot through with disarming vagueness and the sense that things being unformed hangs over the chapter, what with two dream sequences and a drunken scene it's none too surprising. Entitled A Dream of Birds the chapter opens with the recollections of a dream, where the narrator is being reprimanded for shoddy work in a calligraphy class, in the dream the man appears drunk and overheated, the narrator takes some relief from being able to cool him down with a dampened towel, making sure the dabbing is not too hard, not too soft, there's an erotic undercurrent to this action, which feels in a way out of place. The man represents a composite of numerous male figures that the narrator fails to ascertain any tangible connection with, this figure of the male is enough to hint at forming a multifaceted impression of male identities in general. In as much as the chapter feels slightly directionless this adds to the impression that the narrator is caught in a state of limbo of her life being up in the air and unsettled, again there are references to the social stigma of being a divorcee or that of being on the cusp of becoming one.

Another central scene of the chapter is that after ensuring her daughter is tucked in bed asleep she has to escape the confines of the apartment to find some release, going for a drink, in a nearby bar she half recognises a woman whose paths they have shared, before she knows it too many drinks are consumed and in a state she heads back to the apartment, where she is accosted by her estranged husband Fujino outraged by her behaviour, the scene is explosive and it feels that the ramifications of it may resurface later. Although in this chapter it feels things are up in the air for the narrator, in some of the chapters scenes appear sometimes non sequential within the larger unfolding story being referenced again later, the undercurrent remaining theme of women's suffrage is a unifying one, towards the end of the chapter it's seen skipping across the three generations of the story's protagonists, the narrator, her mother and her daughter, briefly arising, or envisioned through the figure of an old woman.

As were heading towards the halfway mark of the novel, each of the chapters are more or less 10 pages, in this chapter, as in the previous ones, Geraldine Harcourt's translation feels pitch perfect, the nuances and concerns in the narrator's voice are conveyed in lucid prose and the deeper concerns of the novel are held at a comparative distance for contemplative reflection, which will continue on in August's chapter - The Sound of a Voice. Repeated thanks go to Penguin for providing advanced reading chapters of this book which is published in it's entirety in 2018.    

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tanizaki in translation

Through recent internet searches it was hard not to stumble upon the news of a number of books relating to Tanizaki Jun'ichiro that are either recently published, re-issued or remain forthcoming. After searching a little more deeply it seems that the number of books number quite a few, so by means of taking stock I thought I'd compile a quick list, back pedalling slightly to begin with -

Red Roofs and Other Stories - trans. Anthony H. Chambers & Paul McCarthy - UMP 
The Maids - trans. Michael P. Cronin - NDP
Devils in Daylight - trans. J. Keith Vincent - NDP
The Gourmet Club - A Sextet - trans. Anthony H. Chambers & Paul McCarthy - UMP
In Praise of Shadows - trans. Gregory Starr - Bento Books
Childhood Years - trans. Paul McCarthy - UMP
A Cat, a Man and Two Women - trans. Paul McCarthy - Daunt Books
Remembering Tanizaki Jun'ichiro and Matsuko - Anthony H. Chambers - UMP
In Black and White - a novel - trans. Phyllis I. Lyons - CUP

Of a few of these hopefully reviews will be forthcoming, although I think that's an impressive list of titles, maybe, hopefully, I've missed more, but for the mean time that'll make for interesting reading.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Territory of Light - Sunday in the Trees

The chapter Sunday in the Trees takes us into June as Territory of Light continues and although brief, being about ten pages the prose has such a vividness to it that in a way makes it stand out a little more prominently from the previous ones, it's events seem to slip out from the narrator's continuing story, and similar to the preceding chapters the thought arises that we're receiving a snapshot of each month, a day at a time nearly, as the book progresses we begin to wonder a little at the events occurring between these presented chapters. In a way Sunday in the Trees strongly displays the themes that Tsushima explores in her writing, namely the alienation, marginalization and loneliness of single motherhood, through prose which is pitch perfect the reader's concerns rise with her character and in a few deftly constructed sentences are movingly dashed.

The setting of most of Sunday in the Trees takes place in Bois de Boulogne, a nearby park and garden to the narrator's apartment, with high zelkova elm trees that the narrator is surprised she hadn't noticed before. Through a number of scenes we read examples familiar with single motherhood, her daughter uncooperative and unruly, a slap that resonates from mother to daughter producing corresponding memories of her receiving one from Fujino, her husband, this is not the only instance to the chapter where the past is mirrored in events occurring in the related present, after her daughter runs off in a temper a memory from school of a boy running away is recalled, through these scenes, and throughout the chapter Tsushima's prose has an economy where a word appears not to be missed in evoking a scene or provoking poignancy as is seen toward the end of the chapter. Throughout there are moments of the turbulence of the narrator coming to terms with the relentlessness of single motherhood, having to give piggyback to her daughter, taking on both mother and father roles, added to this in dealing with a tantrum in which her daughter confesses that being with her father Fujino is best.

Reading Sunday in the Trees we're reminded again that the novel has both the continuous storyline of a separation and also of being that a collection of vignettes with the theme of light occurring through their course, in this chapter whilst exploring the emotional landscape of her narrator this leads to it's powerfully illustrative conclusion. Whilst at the park the narrator spies a lone woman with a child who appears to her to be in a similar circumstance, through the narrator's imagined conversations with the woman and of her picturing their children playing together the reader is tempted into visualizing the beginning of further characters being introduced to the storyline. The narrator learns of the details of the woman's background, the child leading a kind of latchkey kid existence, residing in a six mat room while it's hinted that the woman has turned to prostitution to get by, in all a disarming portrait that further provokes consideration of the plights of single motherhood.  Towards the end the attentive reader's might begin to wonder - when the light?, and whilst on their way back from the park with her daughter carried piggyback the narrator feels a sensation of heat and light momentarily erupt behind them although turning to check they see nothing, how Tsushima links this scene with the plight of the woman seen at the park is a galvanising one, and in a sentence we return to the narrator's progress of picking up papers to file for divorce.

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics   

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A quick post to mention that there's now a Facebook page for my blog where hopefully I'll be linking into further book news and sharing reviews, please stop by and like - 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Territory of Light - The Water's Edge

May's chapter of Territory of Light is entitled The Water's Edge and opens with the narrator hearing the sound of water during the night, interestingly with this initial vagueness of description the reader is drawn into contemplating further detail, what is the source of this sound?, is it a dripping sound?, a tidal sea like swooshing?, the prose continues to provoke further enquiry through it's poetical suggestions. The narrator remains unnamed, and in terms of appearance and contact with the characters from the previous chapter not a lot is added to in The Water's Edge. Instead we are introduced to a new character - the narrator's superior at work, Kobayashi, a bachelor, a sense of slight detached eccentricity, the narrator describes their relationship, at this stage it feels that on his part he resembles a paternal like figure for her, she buys his sandwiches at break times, visualizing addressing questions to him for imagined  reassurance toward the end of the chapter, will he turn a potential intervening saviour later?. A call comes through from Fujino in Kobayashi's presence, and we learn that she had initiated the split with him, there's another call again later, potentially him, has he something pressing to tell her?. 

Another character making an appearance, although potentially only for this chapter is a man who has a business on the floor beneath the narrator's apartment who complains about water leaking through spoiling documents, initially there's the enigma arising surrounding the narrator hearing the water during the night that drifts dream like in out of both sleeping and waking consciousness but after investigating she can't detect any leak, how are the complaint of the water and her hearing it linked?, the prose toys with these slight enigmas of daily life that appear to resemble and have a connection to each other but then again turn to come full circle.

The Water's Edge has the quality of a vignette to it, the appearance of the water on the roof, a sense of distant metaphor, the subtle theme of light continues, the luminance shimmering off it's surface and then the blindingness of the newly replaced  waterproof coating of the roof striking the narrator and her daughter, through the prose light equally obscures and brings new developments into focus, the narrator visualizes her life beginning to continue independently from her husband, the differing paths starting to open up. The sequence of events to The Water's Edge appear to be located and unfold in one point of time, it feels like there is less referencing scenes from the past, although there is a retrospective introspection to her, slightly self recriminating at her eagerness to delve into marriage and pregnancy, the fraughtness of her relationship with Fujino bubbles again to the surface, but details of the circumstance of the separation are still held back for the time being, as with the title of the chapter there's a sense of being at the periphery of events. Although brief the chapter expands on exploring how the separation and it's circumstance provoke a transformative power for the narrator, polarities and positions are beginning to shift, to what extent and their affects may take more shape in next months chapter.   

Thanks again go to Penguin, as mentioned in the previous post I've not a read a novel in this way before and very much appreciate being involved in this innovative approach. 

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics           

Friday, June 2, 2017

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki

It's a little difficult to describe the events of Spring Garden without repeating the publisher's description on the reverse of the book, published as part of the Pushkin Press series of Japanese novellas Haru no niwa was awarded the Akutagawa Prize in 2014 and is translated by Polly Barton. One of the main narrators, Taro, is recently divorced and lives alone in a block of apartments slated to be sold off to developers, as the story progresses the building begins to empty of it's tenants, interestingly each of the apartments is named after signs from the zodiac, so in places characters are referred to in regards their respective sign, e.g Mrs Snake.  Another prominent character is Nishi, a woman who lives upstairs, whom Taro becomes acquainted with. A central enigma to the story is that of the house that the owner of the apartment block, Mrs Saeki used to occupy, as we hear of Nishi's fascination of the building, which is an amalgamation of old and new, East and West, we learn of her first exposure to the building through a photobook entitled 'Spring Garden' by Taro Gyushima and Kaiko Umamura, so there are aspects to the novella that overlap with the images of 'Spring Garden', in a way instead of having 'a book within a book', there remains the resemblance of a book within a photobook.

An aspect of Shibasaka's prose is that of control, the pacing of the novella makes space and time for, at times understated contemplative observations, it's a novella about progressions and regressions, the old building being torn down, people moving on, the photobook 'Spring Garden' acts itself to open up a chapter from the past, briefly we see the progression of the lives of it's authors, and added to this is the history of the tenants of the house central to the subtle speculative enquiries of the novella. Through the photobook 'Spring Garden' and the narrative at hand there is a subtle rebound of the past between the two and the links that may reach between them. As well as dipping into the lives of Taro and Nishi and their progressions, Taro re-questions himself about his father's remains and the pestle and mortar, there's an array of orbiting characters, the Morio's, Mrs Snake, Numazu, (Taro's colleague), and the appearance of Mrs Saeki's son near the end of the novella. Interestingly Shibasaki adds an additional narrative perspective toward the end of the story through Taro's sister which broadens the scope of perceiving his character. 

Spring Garden, as mentioned before feels very contemplative in mood, being perhaps possibly somewhere between Hiraide's The Guest Cat and maybe, Togawa's The Master Key, (ok perhaps only in as much as the setting's equal), Shibasaki plays with a number of enigmas, some remain as backdrop and some move to the fore, and between them, and between perhaps the buildings of the book, the past and present tread a path both broken and constant.     

Spring Garden at Pushkin Press         

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Hopefully for most readers it'll go without saying that Yuko Tsushima was a highly prominent figure of Japanese literature, known not only for her writing, her novels and stories were awarded many of the country's top literary prizes, including the Tanizaki, Yomiuri and Kawabata Prizes, but also she herself sat on numerous literary award panels, and of course her father was Osamu Dazai, with her passing at the beginning of last year, Territory of Light, translated by Geraldine Harcourt is a timely and welcome addition to her works available in English. Appearing as a Penguin Classic the book unfolds over the course of a year, with each chapter unfolding within a month and rather interestingly Penguin have decided to release the book in it's entirety and complete form in April 2018 offering monthly installments to selected readers. As a reader this is a first for me, I've not read a book in this progressive way before, so my posts on the book will appear each month as I receive them, so as we begin I offer great thanks to Penguin for including me on the list.

This opening chapter is April and for the moment the narrator remains nameless, describing the apartment she has recently moved into with her three year old daughter, the narrative begins to waver between past and present tenses in describing, partially, events in her separation with her husband, which appears to be at his instigation, toward the chapter's close it's revealed another woman is involved, but how permanent this relationship is remains uncertain. A deal of this first chapter is taken up with descriptive passages of the apartment, in a sense the prose carries a topographical element, the fixity of place seems to be subconsciously explored. The narrator occupies the top floor of a four storey building, we see her views, snapshots of the external world passing by, the nearby train station, the positioning of windows and what is seen through them, and of course a sense of light, and at times it's absence is prevalent. Single motherhood is a theme that concerned and preoccupied Tsushima's writing a great deal, Territory of Light appears to continue to explore the subject further, there are fledgling signs that the narrator is caught inbetween her parents, her husband and societal conventions, her husband's irresponsibility in regard to her and his daughter becoming apparent, despite this the narrator bears a defiant independence, wanting to keep his influence at a distance, she has her own job at a library for a radio station, relying on her mother to care for her daughter between the childcare. Although the sense that her husband desires continuing contact remains, for how long or whether this will be the beginning of the bone of contention of the novel will maybe begin to emerge into the next chapter.

As with the publisher's description the prose has a luminosity, descriptions of light feel as if their always only a few sentences or passages away, and in this opening chapter we begin to see shadows beginning to be cast by it's principal characters, and whilst reading you get a sense of the potential clash of interests that'll begin to open up between them, added to this the prose also carries the brittle fragility of a recovery. Another aspect is a spatial one, initially with her husband, the narrator searches for an apartment after the rather enigmatic separation, and although the proportions of these buildings is small, for the narrator they represent much larger emotional spaces, the chapter ends with the narrator envisioning a potentially larger canvas for their small space, and before closing a repeating motif also stays in the forefront of the mind - a poem from Goethe, which the narrator has to find for a request at the library, the opening lines repeated - 'Quick now, give up this idle pondering! And lets be off into the great wide world!', it feels it has the tone of a decisive mantra of protection against the vicissitudes forthcoming, but I guess that'll be further revealed for next month.       

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Transparent Labyrinth by Keiichiro Hirano

The Transparent Labyrinth is the eighth and last title in the recently published series Keshiki - New Voices From Japan from Strangers Press, a part of the UEA Publishing Project, Norwich, the story is translated by Kerim Yasar, Hirano has been awarded many literary prizes among them the Akutagawa Prize. The Transparent Labyrinth is a thoroughly contemporary tale, set predominately in Budapest the story is narrated by Okada who has travelled to the city on business and whilst there he makes the acquaintance of Misa - a young Japanese woman whose reasons for staying on in the city seem to tie in mysteriously with a female friend of hers - Federica, Okada speculates to himself that there is the possibility that the two are lesbians, but despite this Okada and Misa are drawn to each other, a fractiously fraught relationship is kernelled. An aspect to the premise and theme of the story is reminiscent of Rupert Thomson's The Book of Revelation, and in his foreword John Freeman points to Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers for likeness, although unlike Thomson's novel the difference here is that instead of a kidnapping over a prolonged period, Okada and Misa find themselves taken to a Bacchanalian orgy where they're coerced into making love in front of a selected group, this episode is brutal with it's scenes of sexual violence including male rape.

An aspect of Hirano's prose which impresses through this short piece is of his ability to paint an absorbingly detailed portrait of his protagonist as he works through the various enigmas that he finds himself in and presented with. Initially there's the disarming events of the evening of enforced sexual escapades and it's ramifications, and also of the enigma of Misa and his feelings for her, as she disappears and re-appears in and out of his life, a wider game of incomprehension seems to be playing out though just out of sight for the reader, some kind of answer occurs to the end of the story which acts to wrong foot, although in a way it remains partial. Another aspect to the story is of Okada trying to reconcile and release himself to the past events which he and Misa endeavour to grapple with, what had violated them also binds them, the psychological forces that flow beneath the story feel fractious, bifurcated, and again Hirano handles this infectiously well. Although I've picked up the last in the series first, mainly attracted by it's enigmatic title, The Transparent Labyrinth was a compelling and provocative start to what looks to be a fascinating and welcome series of stories.  

The Transparent Labyrinth at Strangers Press