Somewhere amongst the pages of The Nakano Thrift Shop it's lead character, Hitomi, surmises her observations of her on/off relationship with her colleague, Takeo, with the phrase 'the scrutiny of love', it could be said that this forms the central plot of contention and theme of the novel that was published by Portobello Books last year in a translation from Allison Markin Powell. The novel is made up of chapters which at times resemble installments, giving the impression of being diary entries, perhaps. Hitomi's observations carry a certain fragility to them, and there's some slight uses of poetical imagery, when kissing Takeo, perhaps for the first time?, Hitomi hears in the distance the sound of an engine start and then stop, which seems to mirror the progress of their relationship. It's refreshing to read Kawakami, she has her characters break and question conventional thought in subtle ways, Takeo feels quite a feminine character, for an initial portion of the book you wonder if he is asexual, the notion of sexual desire and relationships is a subject brokered again later in the novel by Masayo, (Mr Nakano's unmarried sister), who Hitomi confides her inner most thoughts to through various points in the novel.
Being set in the confines of a thrift store, sometimes the novel has the feel of being a play, there are not that many characters to the book, perhaps the reader might imagine a stage, despite the women Mr Nakano is having affairs with. There are a number of subplots that arise through the characters that frequent the shop and through the objects they peruse, perhaps rather subtly, did one of these other story lines spill across a couple of chapters?. Kawakami's prose has a pensive quality to it, incidences can sometimes feel subdued however eventful they are, in one chapter Mr Nakano is stabbed, but things seem to carry rather glacially on to all degrees unaffected, maybe the prompt for his potential exit in his attempt to extrapolate himself from the escalating predicament of his affairs.
The prose of The Nakano Thrift Shop has a softly quintessential feel, an engaging episode of the drama of an encounter of the heart, like the customers of the shop who drift in and out we too, as does it's central protagonists, drift in and out of their lives and loves, tinted with their subtle eccentricities, alienations and lives subtly, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, knocked out of joint by modern life and it's pulling, the drama plays out combining both introspective reflection and an ending coda.
The Nakano Thrift Shop at Portobello Books