Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A chance to win a copy of Bullfight by Inoue Yasushi - a give away post.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After a few years blogging, and also to aptly mark the recent publication of The Life of A Counterfeiter, the third book by Inoue Yasushi from Pushkin Press, recently read here, it gives me great pleasure to be able to offer readers with my first give away post, a chance to receive and review a copy of Bullfight, the Akutagawa Prize winning story by Inoue Yasushi, translated by Michael Emmerich, via the generosity of Pushkin Press. All you need to do is to leave a comment to register your interest then send me an email, (via my profile), with your postal address and after 10 days, (or there about, apologies - this is the speed I work at!), I'll pop all names into a hat or bag and then pick the name of the lucky recipient, I'm happy to post anywhere on the globe, but obviously there is also the obligatory provision - that once you've read the book you post a review of it on either your own, or your favourite website or blog so that I have somewhere to link on to after the event. So there you go, that's all there is to it, if you'd like the opportunity to win and read this copy of a post war masterpiece leave a comment stating your interest and then drop us an email with a contact address - good luck and all the best.
 
Bullfight at Pushkin Press  
 


Friday, August 15, 2014

文豪の家 - Bungou no Ie

http://www.xknowledge.co.jp/_books

 
A book that I've been intending for a while to give a brief synopsis of, Bugou no Ie, published earlier last year offers an insight into the houses lived in by a number of famous writers, know the house - know the writer, as the obi of the book mentions, perhaps if you wanted a literary tour of Japan this book would make a great companion, I like how the door behind the title is slightly ajar inviting us in.  The book offers a snapshot of houses lived in by writers mostly of Meiji to mid twentieth century, late Showa, there is a mixture of black and white and color photographs, along with floor plan layouts of the houses and notes of artefacts of the authors. Here's a list of the writer's whose houses are featured, Mokichi Saito, Takeo Arishima, Dazai Osamu, Haruo Sato, Yasushi Inoue, Soseki Natsume, Naoya Shiga, Hakusha Kitahara, Takuboku Ishikawa, Toson Shimazaki, Doppo Kunikida, Ranpo Edogawa, Kojin Shimomura, Yakumo Koizumi, Seicho Matsumoto, Junichiro Tanizaki, Rohan Koda, Nobuko Yoshiya, Saneatsu Mushanokoji, Sakutaro Hagiwara, Katai Tayama, Saisei Muro, Fumiko Hayashi, Kyoshi Takahama, Ogai Mori, Ashihei Hiino, Shoyo Tsubouchi, Kunio Yanagita, Tatsuo Hori, Roka Tokutomi, Bokusui Wakayama, Shiki Masaoka, Kenkichi Nakamura, Saika Tomita, Kenji Miyazawa, Yaeko Nogami. Probably out of these the house lived in by Yaeko Nogami in Nagano is amongst my favourite, an old property it's roof is thatched, situated near a tree, leaves have fallen on it, giving the impression that the roof has created it's own ecological system, with a mixture of thatch, moss and leaves. The book is published from x-knowledge, a publisher whose focus is on architecture, they publish the magazine, My Home +, who have also earlier this year published a companion book to this one focusing on Literary Landscapes, which looks at landscapes associated with authors and their works - another to hunt out.  
 
 
the book at amazon.jp and also the companion book Literary Landscapes   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reading history from the past year


Recently noticed that it's been a little over a year since updating a list of books read outside of Japanese translations, so here's a list of what I've been reading -


Patrick Suskind - The Pigeon
D.B.C Pierre - Vernon God Little
Diego Marani - New Finnish Grammar
Gabriel Josipovici - Everything Passes
Paul Leppin - Severin's Journey into the Dark
Vladimir Odoevsky - Two Days in the Life of the Terrestrial Globe
Ferdinand von Schirach - The Collini Case
Andre Brink - The Blue Door
Jerzy Andrzejewski - The Appeal
Jorge Luis Borges - Seven Nights
Mary Butts - Armed With Madness
Gert Ledig - Payback
Denton Welch - A Voice Through A Cloud
W.G Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp - Unrecounted
Bruno Schulz - Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
Andrey Platonov - The Foundation Pit
Tao Lin - Eeeee Eee Eeee
Pierre Michon - Small Lives
Rene Crevel - Babylon
Georges Bataille - Story of the Eye
Andre Malraux - The Walnut Trees of Altenburg
Ted Hughes - The Hawk in the Rain
J.D Salinger - For Esme - With Love and Squalor
Marghanita Laski - The Victorian Chaise Longue
Denton Welch - In Youth is Pleasure
Sandor Marai - Esther's Inheritance
Maruerite Yourcenar - Alexis
Geroge Simenon - The Little Man From Archangel
Charles Simic - Selected Poems
Cicely Hamilton - William - An Englishman
Ernst Junger - Eumeswil
John Williams - Stoner
Jeremias Gotthelf - The Black Spider
Marguerite Dumas - Writing
John Cheever - Falconer
Adolfo Bioy Casares - The Invention of Morel
Henri Barbusse - Under Fire
Herbert Read - The Green Child
Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
Erico Verissimo - Night
Igor Vishnevetsy - Leningrad
Sylvia Plath - The Colossus
Andre Gide - Strait is the Gate
Odon von Horvath - Youth Without God
David Edmonds and John Eidinow - Wittgenstein's Poker
Greg Baxter - Munich Airport
Clarice Lispector - The Passion According to G.H
Alexander Lernet-Holenia - I Was Jack Mortimer 
Antal Szerb - The Third Tower
Clarice Lispector - Near to the Wild Heart
Thornton Wilder - The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Italo Calvino - Under the Jaguar Sun
Clarice Lispector - Hour of the Star
Pierre Drieu la Rochelle - The Comedy of Charleroi and Other Stories
Italo Svevo - As a Man Grows Older
Jean Cocteau - The Difficulty of Being
Jean Genet - Funeral Rites
Paolo Volponi - The Worldwide Machine
Colette - The Ripening Seed

I guess this year's discovered author for me has been Clarice Lispector, I've a copy of Agua Viva on the way, and then perhaps afterwards I'm going to turn to her recent biography by Benjamin Moser. Recently I've I think my reading has changed in pattern, I feel that I'll get hooked by an author and then feel that I have to read their available works, perhaps this started after reading Lispector, but after reading Genet again recently I'll turn to his other novels, although I read Miracle of a Rose years ago I feel it's time to check out his other novels, with regards to Japanese authors, Soseki and Abe Kobo are two authors that I feel that I still need to catch up with their works. Another French novelist that I'd like to turn to is Jean-Louis Curtis, whose The Forest Of The Night, translated by Nora Wydenbruk, I'm aiming to read soon, which apparently is available to read online.     


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life Of A Counterfeiter - by Yasushi Inoue

         

 

Life Of A Counterfeiter is the third in Pushkin Press's recent books from Inoue Yasushi, all of which have been translated by Michael Emmerich, although Life Of A Counterfeiter has been previously translated by Leon Picon, this new edition is also accompanied by two stories new in translation, Reeds and Mr Goodall's Gloves, all of these originally appeared in Japan in the 1950's. The shifting focus of perspective in Life of A Counterfeiter is fantastically subtle, the narrator is asked by the family of renowned painter, Onuki Geigaku, to write his biography, having passed away in 1938 the project is postponed by the war's intervention. The narrator is a journalist for an Osaka paper, which puts the narrative a few degrees closer in relation to Inoue's own experiences, whilst on a research trip with Geigaku's son and heir, Takuhiko, visiting the family homes of those who had purchased Geigaku's paintings they discover a discrepancy in the family seal on some of the paintings they view, after a previous reading of Geigaku's diary and a bit of detective work the character of forger Hara Hosen begins to emerge. Once Geigaku's friend, the story shifts from Geigaku to being a side glance biography of Hosen who falls into forging many paintings, passing them off as being that by the hand of Geigaku, the story traces him from forger to amateur dabbler as a firework maker. Life Of A Counterfeiter is a finely conceived piece of distilled portraiture, imbued with a slight melancholy, which casts a glance at the twists of fate, of how one man succeeds and another falls into obscurity, albeit one of a subtle notoriety.
 
Reeds is a slightly more fragmentary story which subtly examines notions of memory and attachment theory, the story begins with the narrator relating the story of a kidnapped boy and of his father who is trying to locate him, although their true relationship with each other begins to slide into ambiguity when it becomes apparent the child was adopted, this fragmentary opening begins to give way to the narrator's own recollections of instances from his own childhood, one in particular of being very young laying out on a bank next to a lake, of boats moored and of remembering a man and woman being very close to each other, he later acknowledges what they were really doing, and after asking his mother as to the woman's identity the only woman she can surmise it could have been is Aunt Omitsu, who was seen as bringing shame on the family due to her lewd conduct, Mitsu ends up dying prematurely. The story bears some common motifs seen in other of Inoue's stories, of extended families, official and unofficial, a journalist working at an Osaka newspaper, and the mention of Hokuriku. An interesting additional motif to this story is that of the narrator's recollections of playing the card game of matching pairs with his Grandmother, who is not a blood relative, the narrator in a slightly disguised way observes the similarity with individual memory with that of holding a single card without another to match it with, which is the subtle metaphorical master stroke to this at times affecting story. 
 
Mr Goodall's Gloves shares it's central character with Reeds in Grandmother Kano, perhaps the narrator could also be the same, a journalist working for an Osaka newspaper, this time however the location of the story is set in Nagasaki. In some ways it slightly resembles the title story in structure, that in it, set slightly off stage is a renowned artist, a calligrapher - Matsumoto Jun. The narrator arrives in Nagasaki to report on the city in the aftermath of the bomb, staying at an inn the narrator comes across Matsumoto's calligraphy which unlocks memories of Grandmother Kano, a student of Matsumoto, who is at the centre of this story. Some themes that feature in the previous story can be seen by degrees again in Mr Goodall's Gloves, of the distances between official and unofficial family and being seen as an 'unofficial' family member, the feeling that Kano is living a marginalised existence can be felt. These recollections lead to the narrator wandering through the foreigner's cemeteries of the city, and of the narrator discovering the grave of a Goodall which unlocks memories of Kano relating an episode of a grand state occasion, of the obtaining of the gloves, and of a foreigner also called Goodall, the story subtly intertwines these lives and uses a subtle symbolism in the form of Goodall's gloves in representing differing themes  and instances to those who encounter them. Set against the possibility of them being the same man and amidst these speculations is the almost ethereal figure of Grandmother Kano, with her unofficial status, these stories subtle probe themes of tangible existences and the possibility of connecting lives, in a way that perhaps could be best described as portraiture within portraiture, a rewarding addition to Inoue in English, many thanks to Pushkin Press.      
 
Life Of A Counterfeiter at Pushkin Press
 
 
 
                      

Monday, June 30, 2014

male actor outside of Japan?

In this post I was wondering who is the most famous contemporary Japanese male actor known outside of Japan, I read this news via Asahi AJW about accolades heaped upon the film Watashi no otoko directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, which was recently awarded the Golden George Prize at the 36th Moscow International Film festival, Asano Tadanobu also received an award for best actor for the film, I'll let you search/google which award he won. This news lead me to contemplate who is the most famous male Japanese actor known outside of Japan?, of course I'd also like to know which female actress is considered the most famous. Asano is an actor whose performances I've deeply enjoyed over the years, although I've not seen all of his films, although each time I've seen one of his films I usually find myself readjusting which of his films is my favourite, for me he is like a mixture between Mifune and Eastwood, in his earlier films the less his dialogue the more he seems to express, which is quite a rarity in contemporary cinema. Who might you think?.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories - by Nishimura Kyotaro



Amongst the latest of titles published by Thames River Press is The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories by Nishimura Kyotaro translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, the collection is selected from the lists of the JLPP, which has now seen nearly all of it's titles listed in English translation published, there remains Alfred Birnbaum's translation of Abe Kazushige's Sinsemillas, and Christopher Belton's translation of Mori Eto's Colorful, Stephen Snyder's translation of Maijo Otaro's Asura Girl is due in December and Paul Warham's translation of Ground Zero, Nagasaki: Stories by Seirai Yuichi, whose title story was awarded the Tanizaki Prize in 2007, is due in January 2015, all of which makes the demise of the JLPP more lamentable.  
 
Nishimura was awarded the Edogawa Prize in 1965 for Tenshi no Kizuato/A Scar of an Angel and also the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1981 for Shuchakueki satsujin jiken/The Terminal Murder Case, and is also famous for the character Inspector TotsugawaThe Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories contains five stories, the first being the title story, The Isle of South Kamui, which sees a doctor, who after having problems with a woman connected to the yakuza takes a post on a remote island south of the island of Kamui. On the ferry crossing to the island the doctor becomes acquainted with a salesman who appears at various moments throughout the story, in some ways he is the only character that the doctor has to be able to rationalize his observations of the island with, on his arrival the doctor observes the 'harvesting' of one of the local species of birds, the Streaked Shearwater, a protected bird which the islanders are permitted to hunt on one day of the year only, the doctor observes the sweating bodies of the women during the bloodletting and the entrails of the birds whose meat is later served for him at his welcome party, the salesman informs him of the licentiousness of the women of the island which the salesman participates in and which the doctor also falls prey to. In it's remoteness the island's customs appear to be rooted in the past, and out of sync with contemporary society they refer to the mainland with its ancient name of Yamato and the electricity on the island is switched off at eight, for guidance in matters of importance they consult an oracle of a mountain temple, but the crux of the story comes to a head with the outbreak of a contagious disease which can be fatal within twenty four hours after contracting it, knowing that the disease was brought on to the island the islanders suspicions focus on the salesman and doctor. With not enough serum for all the doctor is forced into choosing between saving himself or saving his patient, but his actions result in consequences unforeseen and defies the logical pattern of his sense of morality.
 
Summer Reverie dips into the infatuated psychology of a 17 year old youth, Shinichi, who finds himself drawn to his step mother, set on the coast of Izu, it has the feeling of the taiyo zoku although being brought more up to date and taken up a notch or two by degree. Shinichi looks up to Yukibe, a girl from his school who dropped out and is living on the streets and was involved in the student protests, he observes that, 'she is fighting against something. But I...', at night he fires his rifle, a gift from his father before he died, into the darkness of the sea. Between Shinichi and his step mother is her potential suitor, Takeda, a novelist who is staying in the house, his presence exacerbates Shinichi's temperament, whilst out swimming Shinichi gets caught in an undercurrent, before loosing consciousness he remembers seeing Takeda walking away leaving him to drown. In an erotic dream Shinichi dreams of his step mother naked and of him shooting her, a spot of red appearing on her chest where the bullet strikes which proves to be portentous. Although Nishimura's narratives feel in places quite plaintive, his stories explore the undersides of his character's psychologies and from them appear well crafted stories of the unexpected with turnabouts unforeseen.  
 
Two of the stories have narratives from detectives trying to solve their case, although at the same time Nishimura delves into the psychologies of both the criminals and detectives alike, especially in the final story entitled The Detective, where a six year old boy is reported as having committed suicide after swallowing rat poison, the child's mother is an aspiring actress and the case has ramifications for the detective's own history and echoes of the accidental death of his own son on the day that he and his wife separated. House of Cards follows a detective on the case of a murdered bar girl and a dissolute poet. The narrative in The Monkey That Clapped It's Hands comes from a journalist, Sawaki, investigating the suicide of a young man, Shinkichi, who had travelled from Hokkaido to Hokuriku for work, discovering that before his suicide Shinkichi had written three letters to three different people, Sawaki tracks out the three to find out if the contents of the letters will offer any clue for the motive of Shinkichi's suicide. The story has a soulful quality to it, reading like a distant portrait of a young man's dislocation from nature, from the rural to the city and subtle connections could be made between the wind up toy monkey at it's centre and the loneliness of the mannequin like life Shinkichi finds himself in. During his investigations Sawaki is accompanied by Shinkichi's mother, Toku whose grieving is subdued until the end of the story, the story turns over some subtle themes , the recruitment and assimilation of rural workers into the loneliness of city life, which also surfaces in another story, and also of the media's searching manipulation of the unfolding story to get a saleable angle on events, which again is a theme apparent that features in a number of the stories in this interesting collection.

The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories at Thames River Press
 
          

Monday, June 9, 2014

Last Words From Montmartre - Qiu Miaojin





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 Reading Last Words from Montmartre has been a profound experience, although an epistolary novel in it's presentation, Qiu directs us at the beginning that we can read the letters in any sequence, over varying perspectives it begins to become difficult to separate the voice of the author with that of the novel's narrator, in relation to Japanese literary terms perhaps it wouldn't be far off in likening it to being in the style of a Watakushi shōsetsu. this is the impression I have after reading it. Situated in Paris the setting does switch at times, to Taipei then to Tokyo, briefly to London?, like Qiu herself the narrator is fascinated with Dazai, Mishima and other Japanese authors are referenced, Abe Kobo, Murakami Haruki as well as the films of Theodoros Angelopoulous and briefly the sculptor Paul Landowski. Initially the letters explain a break up between the narrator and Xu, her lover, the panoramic scope of vision of the narrative spins around glimpsing lives of those in proximity to the narrator, the central point of the narrative shifts, so an uncertainty remains, although fragmentary it's lucidity is piercing, it's intimacy and honesty unflinching, it's poignancy totally disarming. The novel is translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich who also gives an afterword which gives a sociological and historical background to the literary scene in Taiwan leading up to the book's first publication in 1996, the year after Qiu Miaojin's suicide in Paris.

Undoubtedly Last Words From Montmartre is a novel that will attract a great deal of discussion, I'm still reeling from reading it, and at the moment all I feel I could say about it would be in some ways to reiterate the description of it over at it's page at nyrb, so for now I'll just redirect you there and recommend the book without reservation, hopefully I'll be more articulate after reading Notes of A Crocodile, which was awarded a posthumous China Times Honorary Prize for Literature in 1995, and is also forthcoming from nyrb in a translation by Bonnie Huie, an excerpt and introduction of which is available via Kyoto Journal, but no doubt Last Words of Montmartre will be re-read before that time. Finishing his afterword Ari Larissa Heinrich observes that 'Perhaps no writer since Mishima has so mercilessly ripped the mask off the writer's true self.', it's really difficult to disagree, a landmark and monumental book.

Last Words from Montmartre at nyrb

at amazon

  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Miner - Natsume Sōseki


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
Kōfu/The Miner first appeared in serialization in 1908 in the pages of the Asahi Shimbun, the narration is from a nineteen year old youth who after being caught between two women, Tsuyako and Sumie, finds himself wandering out of Tokyo through a forest of endless pine trees with the looming intention of throwing himself into a crater at Mt. Asama, or alternatively off Kegon Falls, in his afterword Jay Rubin mentions of the true character whose story Sōseki used as source material for aspects of the book, reading this is in some ways to be reminded of Kusamakura and of Fujimura Misao, finishing The Miner reiterates the hope for an explorative biography of Sōseki which would shed further insights into the stories behind his novels. In some descriptions of The Miner the book has been described as a precursor to Beckett and Joyce including sections which incorporate a stream of conscious style, this is probably mostly evident in the first two thirds of the book, although the reflective nature of the narrator's thoughts are never distant from the course of his describing the unfolding events of the novel, some of these reflections concern his evolving consciousness of his place in society, or more broadly the nature and follies of man, many of these instances of reflection here project over a number of pages and are prompted in a number of differing ways and scenarios, the line of a mountain that dissolves and blurs with that of the sky, the narrator observes that he finds himself in an 'out of focus world', a moment disembarking from a train, another theme that appears in the novel, reiterated by the narrator is the notion of the undefinable character of man and of the concluding observation that there is nothing more unreliable than man.

In some ways it feels that The Miner could be in part a bildungsroman due to the young age of the narrator, there is a sense we're sharing his rite of passage, early in the novel he reveals the fact that his period at the mine was only temporary, so the narrative comes partially from a perspective of hindsight, another aspect that remains slightly obscure is the nature and true scenario of his problem with the two women, Tsuyako and Sumie, it feels very much that perhaps he is the guilty party. In his afterword Jay Rubin observes that there were two Sōseki's, one humorous, the other an intellectual tragedian, and there is a little of both to be found in The Miner, perhaps more of the latter with an added percentage of being of a philosophical and sociological enquiry, with an emphasis on the absurd, it feels a little incredulous to contemplate that this translation has just passed being over a quarter of century old, there is the inclusion of phrases like; highfalutin, and in another scene where the boss of the mine, Mr Hara, instructs the narrator's guide, Hatsu, when after returning with the narrator from a tour of the dark depths of the mine, to sit down and 'take a load off', it feels slightly difficult to reconcile these phrases to a novel from 1908, Rubin's afterword and notes throughout the text remain greatly enlightening and informative.

It's tempting to read The Miner with the idea that  Sōseki is using the mine as a metaphor as the narrator explores his thoughts about the meaning of his existence and future, it feels like we are briefly visiting a darker or baser denizen of humanity amongst the squalid conditions and ways of the miners, another aspect is of the narrator's metropolitan background experiencing for the first time the provincial life, in some ways this is a common scenario that appears in a number of other of Sōseki's novels, of the main character or protagonist relating their experiences when travelling to a new location or surrounding, it occurs in Botchan and also in Sanshiro. Reading The Miner is to be reminded that although there are a number of similar themes usually running through Sōseki's novels, the narrative styles used in his novels are markedly different, in his introduction to Light and Dark John Nathan observes of the scale of interiority that the novel incorporates, but there remains a feeling that in The Miner that this is more so, it feels that The Miner is more allegorical than metaphor in parts it feels like it could be veering into a Kafkaesque landscape, the mine, it appears could be viewed as Sōseki's Vor dem Gesetz/Before the Law, the narrator can't move forward until he has journeyed through the darkness of the mine, there is a hybrid of different motives to his narrative, a sense that the narrator is assuaging his guilt and of his on going interpretation of the nature of the world at large, but the novel offers no redemptive quality, the narrator does not turn to the mine as an alternative to suicide, it's not until he encounters an older miner in the darkness, Yasu, when he becomes lost after Hatsu, his guide, scurries away from him that his thoughts begin to formulate into a concrete coherent course of action. In Yasu, the narrator sees a projected mirror image of himself older, one learnt from experience, Yasu too had come from a comfortable and educated Tokyo family and with a crime in his past a feeling that he is unable to leave the mine and the fate he has chosen, the narrator contemplates Yasu and the possibility of his sacrificed future in the outside world - 'Had society killed Yasu, or had Yasu done something that society could not forgive?'. Yasu offers to pay the narrator's return fare to Tokyo, but the narrator is reprieved from working in the depths of the mine due to a slight of fate, already we know from earlier in the novel that he won't spend the rest of his days at the mine, reading Sōseki often feels like experiencing the narrative unroll perhaps as in a modern emakimono.

Another more experimental aspect of this novel which surfaces from time to time is the narrator's scepticism of the literary worthiness of the events occurring in the novel, this also overspills in relating aspects of the literary worthiness of his own character and actions, and by turns in an equal number of places he expresses his scepticism with learned academia, which he often sees as expressing itself with a lot of 'hot air', was this perhaps included in reaction to the disdain Sōseki received after choosing to give up his university post and write for the Asahi?. In some ways it's none too surprising to see how The Miner is one of Murakami Haruki's favourite novels, as literary worthiness, (or junbungaku-ness?), appears to be a bone of contention that many critics often level with Murakami's writing, much of Rubin's afterword is taken up discussing the criticism levelled at Sōseki's writings at the time of their appearance. As 2016 and then 2017 approaches no doubt hopefully this will see an increase of interest in Sōseki, perhaps this too will also see an increase with the availability of all of his works.

  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kanai-kun - Matsumoto Taiyo/Tanikawa Shuntaro

  
Recently stumbled upon this collaboration between Tanikawa Shuntaro and Matsumoto Taiyo published back in January by Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun, needless to say I'd very much like a copy.
 
More information at the publisher. (includes a video walk through of the exhibition with Matsumoto). and more
 
the book at Amazon
 
only a few days left to catch the exhibition, if you happen to be in the area, via TAB

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Kiss of Fire - by Masako Togawa


 
Sometime ago I read and enjoyed Togawa's The Master Key which won the Edogawa Rampo Award way back in 1962, recently a copy of A Kiss Of Fire came my way and the jacket art alone grabbed my attention, although unfortunately I can't see mention of the artist's name anywhere, which is a shame, the book, Hi no seppun was translated by Simon Grove and published in the U.K by Chatto and Windus and previously in the U.S by Dodd, Mead and Company. A Kiss of Fire is a novel that's slightly difficult to fit into any one genre, perhaps it could be best described as an off kilter crime novel, something that I remember from reading The Master Key is of the originally inventive twists and turns Togawa incorporates into her storytelling. At it's beginning three boys witness a fire that kills an aspiring painter, when interviewed the boys claim that they saw a man shaped like a bat who breathed fire ascending the stairs of the building, one of the three boys was the painter's son. After this introductory opening, which sets up the preliminary scenario the novel accelerates forward twenty six years later revisiting the lives of the three boys whose lives have each gone their separate ways, until that is until a spate of arsonist attacks. Ikuo is now a fireman pursuing the elusive arsonist, but in the process he becomes so embroiled he becomes a suspect as his ID and wallet are discovered in the stomach of a lion who falls victim to the arsonists flames. Ryosaku is now a detective who is also on the arson case, in the process he becomes involved with Ikuo's girlfriend Chieko, finally of the three boys is the painter's son Michitaro who has become a director of the family's insurance company. Under chapters named The Fireman, The Detective, The Arsonist, Togawa begins to put the pieces together, at first each of the characters are unaware that they are the three friends who in their youths witnessed the fire that killed Michitaro's father.
 
Over this progressing narrative it becomes slowly more clearer as to who the arsonist is, or so we think, in the meantime Ikuo has self doubts that he might be the arsonist, as an actress he has an affair with is killed by an arson attack, and a pair of jogging shoes linking him to her incriminates him to the degree that he remains suspect number one, but as Ryosaku points out as Ikuo was under police surveillance he is ruled out as a suspect. A clue that begins to emerge is that of something seen by Ikuo in the fire twenty six years previously, running up to the second floor Ikuo had caught Michitaro's father in a compromising position with a young nurse. The story is full of some interesting side plots and arresting motifs that at first seem to sit out of place with the rest of the advancing story, of a local temple where Michitaro's grandmother visits and places a sutra, and of stone effigies that resemble dogs or lions, these things Ryosaku picks up on in the course of his investigations, the temple is also fighting a neighbouring development to turn land adjacent to the temple into apartments. A motif that appears as details of the scenario of the original fire unfold is that of a dog with a burning tail used as a fuse to light the fire, another trigger of a fire later in the book is that of a crystal ball placed in a window to magnify the rising sun's rays to ignite the flames.
 
The deeper mystery of the novel is the reason or motive of the attacks, the main options are that it could be to cover up the escalation of a sham insurance claim linking back to the death of the lion which was secretly highly insured, another is that the arsonist was carrying out his crimes to satiate an almost orgasmic thrill he got when starting fires, or another path begins to lead to Michitaro's grandmother whose husband started the insurance company wanting to avenge the death of her son, the painter, Togawa's great ability is to draw this picture that links each of these different paths so closely together that it's left only to the final stage of the book for all to be made clear. Towards the end of the novel Michitaro is at the centre of a kidnapping plot, in the name of the book Togawa uses it in relation to the dangerous attraction of fire and also of it being utilised as an instrument of vengeance, another imaginative motif that that appears in the novel is the bundle of burnt matches used in the original fire preserved by Michitaro's grandmother as a strange slightly macabre momentum. The novel does show it's age in a number of places, (in one scene I think Ryosaku is described as wearing a 'safari' suit), although this does add to the flavour of the novel and it seems more erotically charged than I remember The Master Key being, but I enjoyed this greatly for Togawa's originality and inventiveness.      
 
As well as her writing Masako Togawa is also known as a chanson singer and also as a writer for television and for her many appearances on television. Aside from The Master Key and A Kiss of Fire another two novels have been translated Slow Fuse and The Lady Killer which won the Naoki Prize, although I think they are all currently out of print it would be great to see these reappear with a reissue.   
 
Masako Togawa's entry on Wikipedia
 
for a glimpse of the jacket art - A Kiss of Fire at Library Thing
 
Hi no seppun at Amazon.jp