Recently the Dalkey Archive has added another two titles from Japanese authors to their catalogue, The Shadow of a Blue Cat by Naoyuki Ii, (translated by Wayne P. Lammers), and also Plainsong by Kazushi Hosaka which originally appeared in Japan in 1990, Hosaka has been awarded many prizes, including three of the most well known; Akutagawa, Tanizaki and Noma, both of these titles are selections by the JLPP. The voice of the narrator retains an easy reading contemporary feel although the novel is approaching being twenty one years old, after being dumped by his girlfriend the central character finds himself living in what was their intended shared 2LDK on his own. As the book evolves characters begin to drift into his story, and the presence of a little cat begins to figure as being the centre of his attention, trying to coax a friendship out of it with dried sardines and benito flakes. Finding himself a single man he takes himself to the horse races with his work colleagues, Ishigami and the slightly race obsessive Mitani, who reads cryptic clues in almost every minuscule detail in the racing form. Out of the blue an old friend, Akira, calls wondering if he can be put up for the night, Akira who is an impoverished photographer lives his life by crashing on friends sofas. Hosaka's prose has a transparency to it which makes it very easy to view the idiosyncrasies of the characters that appear around the central narrator, who has an easy going outlook, as eventually when Akira moves on and another old acquaintance arrives, (Shimada), he finds himself again putting up another guest. Shimada, originally from Kyushu had come to Tokyo to become an avant garde film maker but ends up working for a software company, the narrator studies his visitor's foibles, and behind these observations lies his fascination with a little orange and white kitten that seems to drift in and out of the picture. At first the kitten is not at all interested in the narrator, so he phones an old friend Yumiko for advice, through Paul Warham's easy flowing translation, Hosaka has a great knack at placing Yumiko at the periphery of the narrative, she seems to be someone distant to the central focus of the story, there almost appears to be an other worldly aura to her, her plain advice sometimes appears to the narrator as possibly containing a much deeper portent, which also could be said to describe the appearance of the kitten to the narrator, the cat seems to indicate a symbolism of sorts, the mysterious inner workings of the cat seem to be a constant riddle to the narrator, and it's unpredictable appearances seem to be the source of another unfathomable puzzle.
Akira turns up again but this time with Yoko, the narrator suspects that they are an item but soon begins to realize that this may not be the case, Yoko also begins to become absorbed in the coming and goings of the visiting cat, in the evenings she goes out into the neighbourhood on cat feeding missions. Events at the narrators apartment alternate between rather strange conversations with Ishigami who is travelling to England and also Mitani who when the narrator meets up with him again discovers that he has been away in Bali, the conversation turns to horse racing and Kabbalah, and the narrator believes that Mitani is trying to discover a link between the two. Another character drifts into the household, Gonta, who Akira has coaxed in to drive them to an outing to the beach. The novel subtly sees the author looking back at his generation, and reflects back on the events that figured in the early days of his generation, the Tokyo Olympics, Osaka Expo, Murakami becoming a best seller, reading the novel gives you the impression that Hosaka is turning the camera on his own generation and sees an image of the everyday, perhaps anti-climatic but nonetheless punctuated with scenes of life lived in the big picture, wherever the frame of that maybe. The trip to the beach being the most sustained scene of the novel effortlessly captures the microcosmic activities and observations of the small group, with five or six pages entirely devoted to their fragmented observations of the beach, without any descriptive text. In it's subdued way the novel manages to convey a closely observed snapshot of life lived as it is.
Plainsong at Dalkey Archive Press