Monday, 1 August 2011

Sombrero Fallout - A Japanese Novel


A novelist/writer that I've been meaning to read for quite a while is Richard Brautigan, especially the three of his books that have links with Japan, Sombrero Fallout was published in 1976, (the edition I read was published by Jonathan Cape), the poetry collection June 30th,June 30th appeared in 1978, and in 1979 Brautigan published The Tokyo-Montana Express, a book made up of memories of stations in Japan and Montana, Brautigan was well received in Japan and partly lived there in the late 1970's. Sombrero Fallout has a dedication at the front which reads; This novel is for Junichiro Tanizaki who wrote The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man, I've not yet read any other books by Brautigan yet but am intrigued by these three. The cover of the novel shows a photograph by Erik Weber of Mia Hara, Weber's photographs were also used for many other of Brautigan's books. Sombrero Fallout is built up around two main narratives, one is that of a famous American humourist who is separating from his Japanese girlfriend, Yukiko, of two years, she's leaving him as she has begin to feel that the dimensions of her life are beginning to become unstable due to his erratic temperament. The novel begins with the humourist typing out the beginning of a story about a sombrero falling from the sky, it lands on the ground at the feet of the mayor, the mayor's cousin and a man who is mostly described as 'the man who does not have a job', but as the humourist's line of thinking begins to be consumed with thoughts about the separation he rips the story to shreds and drops the pieces into the bin.
As one narrative follows the humourist reflecting about when he and Yukiko first met the second narrative continues with the fallen sombrero story and the three man that have found it, this narrative continues on with the humourist unaware of it's continuation. The narrative of the humourist is full of self deprecating observations about himself which are tinged with a wry sense of humour, although to the author it could be said that these observations aren't intended as jokes, when he and Yukiko first make love he observes - She took her clothes off like a kite takes gently to a warm April wind. He fumbled his clothes off like a football game being played in November mud. Before this he goes into the kitchen to find something for them to drink and an observation about himself suddenly comes to him that; He wasted a lot of time thinking about things that never came to anything. The humourist, grief stricken, imagines Yukiko sleeping with someone else, he contemplates calling her, noting the only thing separating them is the digits of her phone number, the distance between the two seems vast, but in reality she is sound asleep with her pet cat a few blocks away. The narrative also dips into Yukiko's dreams and frequently features moments of poetical free association, near the beginning of the novel the humourist is contemplating Yukiko sleeping, and in his lovelorn state he fixates on her hair, he imagines her hair sleeping and dreaming, it dreams of waking and of being combed in the morning. 
The book's narrative skips between the grieving humourist and the fallen sombrero through many brief chapters, all with simple titles: SombreroBreathing, Clothes, Mayor, etc, the cousin of the mayor begins to realize that if he were to pick up the sombrero for the mayor he might be in for a promotion, and he is seized with visions of himself running for the presidency, the man without a job envisions that if he were to pick it up it might enable him to get a job, he is tired of eating berries and dreams of eating hamburgers, the scene changes to an antagonistic stand off, in the meanwhile the mayor has been thinking - pick it up it's only a sombrero. A crowd begins to gather when people begin to recognise the mayor, a fight breaks out when two of them start arguing which soon escalates out of control. The humourist meanwhile is caught between whether to go out for a burger or to have a tuna sandwich, before another pang of grief hits him,  slowly more  background  details of Yukiko are explained, and he discovers a single strand of her hair. The sombrero story turns into a full blown riot, Norman Mailer comes to report on the scene and the national guard are eventually  called in to break things up. The book is an interesting and largely humorous  mixture of meta fiction and poetical invention, there's not a great deal of Japan here and how much of it's contents go towards it making it's subtitle of A Japanese Novel is debatable, although at it's heart is an absent Japanese woman which forms a link of sorts, an interesting book to have visited nonetheless. 
Sombrero Fallout has recently been re-issued in the U.K by Canongate      

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