It seems that this year my reading has predominately been made up of a ricocheting between the chapters of Territory of Light and of the novellas being put out by Pushkin Press, this is no bad thing although next year will see me catch up with a few books from the past that I feel I need to catch up with, keeping up with new titles I've neglected on a number of translations from yesteryear. In the last of the novellas of 2017 Ms Ice Sandwich by the Akutagawa Prize winning Mieko Kawakami is translated by Louise Heal Kawai, although only 92 pages the book has a compelling and absorbing narrative, and although some titles are appearing now due forthcoming in 2018 the name Kazushige Abe is a little hard to erase from the wish list. Being so brief it's difficult to give a synopsis of the book in it's entirety without giving all away, so I'll try not to. Essentially the book is about unrequited love and in parts it's a coming of age tale. To begin with the narrative, related by a youngish high school boy?, tells of his fascination with a lady who works at a sandwich stall, another main character of the book is Tutti a female school mate who the narrator has a slightly fragmented relationship with, there's the feeling that she is more interested in him than he is with she, it's slightly difficult to ascertain due to degrees of disinterest the narrator has for anything other than Ms ice sandwich, although on an evening when he visits Tutti to watch a DVD of the movie Heat he becomes more fascinated by Tutti and her father watching the film than the movie itself.
The narrative on the whole has the sense of a slightly dysfunctional kawaii-ness about it, although this bursts in the scene when he breaks down in front of his grandmother who is weak and near death herself at this point and raw emotion prevails over pretense, the novella is endearing in a number of scenes where realizations dawn on the narrator about the absoluteness of loosing occur. Kawakami's prose bears an inventive originality to it, especially the Al Pacino moments - Tutti thinks that Al Pacino means goodbye in a foreign language, and in a number of scenes when they part Tutii and the narrator exchange Al Pacino's, as well as this there's the novel and entertaining way in which Tutti and fellow class mate Doo-wop acquire their names. Aside from his fascination/obsession with Ms ice sandwich there's things going on with the relationship he has with his mother and grandmother, and as well as convincingly portraying adolescent naivety we are given the portrait of a world seen before a number of realizations have occurred. Throughout the narrative the progress is broken with a number of digressions, one being the elusive forgotten story of the dogs with eyes which in a way syncs with a dream sequence incorporating Ms Ice Sandwich, and another the enigma of the source of her facial irregularities..Very much enjoyed this novella and translation and hope for more.
Ms Ice Sandwich at Pushkin Press