Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Dark Room by Junnosuke Yoshiyuki

Anshitsu/The Dark Room by Yoshiyuki Junnosuke was awarded the Tanizaki Prize in 1970, translated by John Bester and appeared in Kodansha's Modern Writers series. The novel is narrated by Shuichi Nakata a writer in his early forties, whilst meeting up with Toru Tsunoki, the two had worked on the same literary journal, we learn that his wife Keiko had died twenty years previously, Nakata suspects that Tsunoki had an affair with his wife, the pair go out drinking and Tsunoki offers Nakata to write a diary for a magazine column, it can even be fictional Tsunoki informs him. Nakata learns that it's to be about his relationship with two women that he meets that night, Tae and Maki. As the novel progresses the reader could be tempted into thinking that the novel is going to be revealed as being the diary itself, but the magazine article soon slips into the background as Maki and Nakata meet up again. Maki confides with Nakata that he is different to other men she has encountered in as much as Nakata doesn't make her sick with repulsion. Nakata's attempt at forcing himself on Maki comes to nothing when she begins to question him, 'Let's call it a day' she says, simply concluding his attempt. Nakata is a character with few redeeming characteristics, his use of prostitutes, and there is much evidence in the novel of abusive relationships, Nakata also sees two other women Takako and Natsue who either have first hand experience of violent husbands/partners, or know other women in the same the situation, but Yoshiyuki's inclusion of this could be read as him highlighting the issue, although Nakata sees his relationship with these women in nearly purely physical terms. Nakata's narrative has an undertone of despair, and to a degree an emotional isolation, at first he doesn't get emotionally involved with the women, but the distance he keeps slowly gets eroded as the novel progresses.

There are a couple of instances in the first half of the novel where the story wanders, Nakata reflects back to his college days, when he was sent to recuperate from an illness in the country,Yoshiyuki himself had a lung removed due to pulmonary tuberculosis, Nakata stays on farm where one of the sons (Torao) goes on to be a genius within his area of study, but Nakata one day discovers that Torao had a brother and sister who were born with mental deficiencies, their existence is covered up by the family who hide the two in the attic of the farm buildings. Another slight diversion in the text comes earlier on when Nakata reads an article about prostitution after the war,in it prostitutes are interviewed about their experiences, during the interview they all mention a female customer they had, a woman that stuck in their memories, 'She was lucky, having something to live for. You know, somehow were not really living at the moment. What do you mean, 'not really living'?. she's asked, I mean living just because there's nothing better to do'. It could have been added as a thematical link, as Nakata begins to realize that Maki is a lesbian, her relationship with Nakata she sees as not being the real thing. The women in Nakata's life begin to drift away from him, Maki falls pregnant with his child but decides to move to America to raise the child, eventually Natsue is the only woman in his life. They meet up and Nakata learns that Natsue was nearly beaten to death by her previous husband, their relationship gets darker. It's great to learn that Kurodahan Press are planning to publish soon Yoshiyuki's Noma Prize winning story in Toward Dusk and Other Stories.   


mel u said...

This sounds like a very interesting novel by a new to me writer-thanks for sharing this book with us-I hope I can find it somewhere!

me. said...

The novel gets darker as it goes on,and has a despairing tone,i'm really interested in reading Toward Dusk.