I've not read many novels or stories set in Japan which are written by non-Japanese, largely novels like these I imagine must be difficult to write, to get the balance between describing any country not of your own without it sounding like a fictionalized travel guide is a tricky feat to accomplish. Faire l'amour/Making Love, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale is a novel in two parts from 2002 has been sat on my shelf to read for a while, another short story collection I've been intending to read is Michael Gardiner's Escalator, (Polygon, 2006). The novel opens with the narrator confessing that he keeps on him a small bottle of hydrochloric acid, which one day he anticipates using, the motives as to why he keeps this with him at first are unclear, his narrative begins to describe his relationship with Marie, a fashion designer and artist who has travelled to Tokyo to exhibit in Shinagwa, his narrative at first switches between describing the first night of their relationship back in Paris and then to describing the last nights of their relationship in Tokyo, the love between them had begun to diminish, their trip to Japan seems to represent the last flicker, the narrative has a valedictory nature to it. Toussaint's prose describes to some degree the accessories in which the narrator finds himself, whether describing the sheer blackness of Marie's underwear or the sleeping mask she wears when they make love, the placing of these things in the text gives the impression at first that the narrator could be describing a crime scene, the lights of Tokyo that can be seen reflecting from the window of their Shinjuku hotel room at times seems to be the only thing of the external world that threatens to interrupt the slow disintegration between them, although while their making love they receive a message informing them a fax has arrived for them downstairs in the lobby. The narrator finds himself staring into a mirror clutching the small bottle of acid, describing a self portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe and whilst reading the novel the photography of Nan Goldin came to my mind, not many novels provoke me into thinking about photography but this one with it's descriptive prose caught me reading it like a photographer.
The narrator leaves Marie sleeping and goes for a nocturnal walk around the corridors and lobbies of the hotel until he finds himself at the hotel's rooftop swimming pool where he takes an impromptu skinny dip. Afterwards he takes in the night time skyline of the city, and contemplates the earthquake that people describe as the 'big one', the narrator also contemplates the ending of the affair, these emotions are mixed with the exhaustion of the flight, and with descriptions of those who sent the fax back in Paris, the narrative briefly straddles lives that are existing in different time zones. The descriptive nature of the novel seems to involve an attempt at dismantling the city, reducing it to a more of an elemental force. Meeting up with Marie in the main lobby the two still living in their European timezone go out for noodles, as dawn begins to break they feel a tremor, which is the centre of conversation when they meet with the organisers of the exhibition in Shinagawa. During this meeting Marie suffers a mini breakdown and after she regains her composure the narrator leaves early and takes a random excursion around Tokyo's subway before taking the shinkansen to Kyoto to visit a friend. Toussaint's prose manages to circumnavigate and include a number of different themes, the narrator's exhaustion from travelling which also manages to include his emotional weariness at the ending of the affair, his shifting perspectives is one of being an outsider and of regaining a new sense of himself as the affair is coming to it's end, although whether this actually happens is left in slight ambiguity. The precise reasons and details behind their separating is not fully explored or given, and a sense that the narrative is skimming the surface of the narrator's feelings comes across, the reader is left to read alot in to the idiosyncrasies of the circumstance of the story, the inclusion of the bottle of acid acts as an interesting metaphor which the narrator utilizes at the end of this resonant novel.
Making Love at The New Press