Monday, 8 July 2013

A Day in the Life by Senji Kuroi

It's been difficult deciding which of Dalkey Archive's latest books published in their Japanese Literature series to go for first, but something about the slightly enigmatic presentation of Senji Kuroi's A Day in the Life, pulled me towards it. Translated from the Japanese -  一日 夢の柵 by Giles Murray, the cover of the book describes it as a novel, but turning curiously to the inside pages we're presented with A Day in the Life, and Other Stories, faced with the presentation this way around you'd have to surmise that the, and Other Stories comes as a subheading to the novel. A Day in the Life comes as twelve portraits of events of a day seen from the perspective of an elderly man, there are some linking scenes and motifs amongst the stories, these are mainly in the form of appointments with doctors, medical centre waiting rooms and medical examinations. The links are not explicitly done, but they remain there in the corner of the reader's field of thought to the degree that after finishing each of the chapters you have to pause momentarily and ponder on the scenes that might have potentially formed links. In some of these stories you get the sense that the full disclosure of the story is left open ended and that the ending scenes of one story maybe described in more detail in the succeeding ones. Most of the stories revolve or start from observations of commonplace and unassuming events of the everyday, but scrupulously convey how normality is a country we take for granted. There's an aspect to Kuroi's writing which carries an understated ability to represent certain associations or events and leave it to the reader to decipher, events unfold sometimes in an unrelated way which can lead the characters into uncharted territory. In the story Marunouchi the discovery of a telephone number written on a piece of a paper found deep in the pocket of a seldom worn coat leads to an encounter of an enigmatic meeting with a woman whose identity has eluded the protagonists memory, after the meeting normality reverts so quickly that makes the reader wonder if the meeting had actually occurred.

As well as being enigmatic in tone the stories convey the sense of being representative of ideas and associations which emanate from the everyday, some are disarming in their depictions of the ordinary as in Shallow Relationship where a man finds himself curiously out of sync with the technical world he encounters; an ATM, an automated train ticket machine, all suggest subtle demarcations that are there to subtly remind us of what being human in the modern world entails, and also points to the world devoid of a sense of common humanity, a world which is subject to change and continual transformation. A reoccurring observation in the characters of these stories is of the world that existed before and is slowly disappearing from their view, the memory of a tree which acts as a local landmark pulled down to make way for a car park, and in Shadow House where a retired man and an elderly woman observe the construction of a coffee shop being built on what used to be a neighbour's home, the previous owner, a woman who made dolls to supplicate her living is remembered. In this story the past and the present become strangely linked when the elderly man sneaks into the property, (another characteristic that appears in a number of these stories), and discovers a doll in the house, perhaps this represents the spirit of the previous owner lingering in the property?, it's left to us to make up our own conclusions.

Although each of these pieces takes us into different directions, there are a number of linking scenarios that are played out in the stories which give the pieces an added sense of cohesion; the protagonist seems to repeatedly find himself entering buildings where enigmatic episodes are occurring, each time this happens it feels that we are on the cusp of unlocking the deep puzzle to understanding the motives and causes at the centre of them only to find that the central action or deeper mystery is actually being played out at an unsuspected location, or in some of them the enigma impenetrably remains. It's disarming to find how easily some of the characters here drift in and out of their lives, entering at times effortlessly into the world of complete strangers, sometimes this is a familiar world and other times it becomes a hostile and intimidating place, as in the final story Yozo's Evening, where the protagonist is pursued by a haranguing character and tries to throw him off his trail by entering a apartment block that is not his own, the narratives seem to wander effortlessly from the inner into a collective consciousness. In the Train, seems to be a contemporary retake on Tanizaki's short story Terror, taking the opportunity to re-evaluate and explore the contemporary psychological landscape. A Day in the Life is an engaging collection of excursions into an enigmatic landscape of neighbourhoods, waiting rooms and inner psychologies, interestingly presented under the parenthesis of being a novel.  

A Day in the Life at Dalkey Archive

A Day in the Life at Kinokuniya


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