Monday, 1 September 2014

The Hunting Gun by Inoue Yasushi

The Hunting Gun/Ryōjū was Inoue's first book, published in 1949, Inoue received the Akutagawa Prize the following year for his book, Bullfight, although brief The Hunting Gun is remarkable for it's penetrating psychological portraits of three women, whose three perspectives are conveyed in three letters that are passed to the narrator at the beginning of this epistolary novella. What might strike the reader as feeling slightly out of place is the descriptions of the Western garb and paraphernalia of hunting, the English gun and cloth, for a novella of it's time these might've carried a slight surreality and out of place-ness. After contacting the narrator after being provoked by reading a poem he had written for a hunting magazine, Misugi Josuke passes him three letters, although the narrator is suspicious that Misugi might be a man of consequence and bearing lets it be known that he has changed all the names from their true ones, so we are left to contemplate the possibility that perhaps Misugi is not even Misugi. The first of the letters is from Misugi's niece, Shoko, who relates the events of the passing of her mother, Saiko, as her letter to her uncle progresses the first clues as to what lies at the novella's centre begin to come into focus. Shoko relates that she knows of their secret through reading her mother's frenetically written diary, this sadness is depicted poetically as she likens it to resembling a petal frozen in a paperweight given to her as a gift, this is one of a number of poetical images that Inoue imbues his prose with a disarming effect, and these resonate throughout, it's also interesting to contemplate that the narrative is brought into being through the reading of a poetical work. Another enigmatic character and event that lingers slightly out of sight of the novella's main narrative is of Shoko's father, Kadota Reiichiro, and of the more distant mystery of what had happened between him and Saiko that had caused them to part, all of these ruminations of failed marriages must of challenged the sensibilities of readers of the day.

Midori's letter adds another jigsaw piece of perspective to the story, wife of Misugi, her letter is both embittered with instances of their loveless marriage, the letter, paradoxically she envisages being the only love letter between them, and also in parts being confessional, seizing the opportunity in her proposed severance with him to provide portraits of the men that have in the past have potentially stole her affections or have been the object of her desires, these are varying both in being real and being projected. She describes seeing a portrait of a naked wild man living wild with a herd of goats in the Syrian desert, the jockey Tsumura whose eye were fixated on her, and also of the artist Matsuyo, all of these offer passing snapshot portraits of desires unfulfilled and hinted at, in some ways perhaps attempts at readdressing the act of betrayal that lies at the story's centre. Along with her unburdening letter there is included another symbolic snapshot motif that links the letters, that of an embroidered haori patterned with a thistle worn by Saiko, which represents her and Misugi's relationship.

Saiko's letter is the last, posthumously she describes the burden of her and Misugi's deception whilst giving a fuller picture to scenes hinted to in the previous letters, she recalls the night of wearing the haori, and of a stay in Atami, and within the letter Inoue imbues his prose with more poetical imagery, whilst staying at Atami the pair spy a burning fishing boat out at sea, and in spite of the casualties they envisage a cruel beauty in the burning vessel, later this same image is associated with Saiko's notion of womanhood. Between the presentation of these letters Inoue passes the right of judge to the reader, across the letters in The Hunting Gun we are given a portrait of the weakness and frailties of the human heart with all it's uncontrollable desires falling victim to itself, translated again by Michael Emmerich.

The Hunting Gun at Pushkin Press

Inoue Yasushi Literary Museum                                   

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