Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Wild Geese

As is often the case that after a period of reading relatively modern or contemporary books or novels the desire to turn to something older pounces on my reading habits, and vice a versa. Feburary 17th will mark the 150 anniversary of Mori Ogai's birth,  which seems like a great prompt to read some of his works, 2012 also marks the 100th anniversary of Soseki's Kokoro. Gan/The Wild Geese was written between the years 1911-1913, it could be described as being a long novella coming in at around 120 pages long, although it took longer to read than anticipated, theres plenty in here to inspire thought, like Kawabata Yasunari's later novel Koto/The Old Capital the novel is of interest with topographical descriptions of it's setting, here it's in and around Muenzaka near Tokyo University and Shinobazu Pond, this area is also the setting for Kawabata's short story from 1926 Boshi Jiken/The Hat Incident, which can be found in the collection, Palm-of-the-Hand-Stories. Biographical details on Mori are plenty throughout the internet, but a reading of a number of his fictions we can see that he  drew on experiences and episodes from his life to use in his writings, Mori lived and wrote during the Meiji period, and many of the changes that this epochal period caused are witnessed and reacted to by the characters in his books. Like Natsume Soseki, his writing is seen as being anti-naturalist in it's perspective, in Gan the narrative is dotted with asides which can be interpretated to this effect. The story is narrated by an anonymous acquaintance of a student called Okada, who the narrator notes reminds him of Kawakami Bizan, it could be said that the book has four or five distinctive narratives, the opening one introduces us to the two students and of Okada's first contact with Otama by seeing her in the window of a large house he walks by. In the second the story of the money lender Suezo is described, at first a servant to the students of the university, Suezo through being thrifty has also managed to amass a capital of money, and he is reviled in the neighbourhood as a money lender, the narrative set before Okada's  encounter with Otama traces Suezo's fascination and attraction to Otama, which eventually leads him to renting a house in Muenzaka for her as his mistress, and another one to accomodate her father. Mori's narrative moves in and out of the thoughts of his characters, Otama's as she misses  being with her father, Otama's father's thoughts about his daughter, then it passes to Suezo's wife, Otsune, who begins to suspect her husband after hearing rumours,  Otsune comes nearly to breaking point when Otama is pointed out to her in the street with the same parasol that Suezo had given her, confrontations abound. The narrative also following Suezo as he continually tries to put his wife off the scent, these psychological portraits are incredibly well defined insights into the worlds of the characters, Otama's loneliness and sense of entrapment in particular.

Throughout the novel the narratives of Mori's characters observe and note events and people occurring around them, the Namamugi incident is referred to and Suezo picks up on the idiosyncrasies of Fukuchi, the writer who owns a large house next to his - He was supposedly an intelligent man, a writer. But was he? If a clerk did the same kinds of nasty tricks with his pen as Fukuchi did, he would be discharged, reading a line like this makes you think that perhaps Mori had someone particular in mind.  Examples of the changes being brought in with the period can be read too - The wheeled stall vanished from it's set place under the eaves. And the house and it's surroundings, which were always modest, seemed suddenly attacked by what was then fashionably called "civilization",  for new boards over the ditch replaced the broken and warped ones, and a new lattice door had been installed at the entrance. This passage gives the impression that Mori is alluding that the changes that were underway went only as far as appearances, that in an understated way that  underneath things remained pretty much the same, the big changes were perhaps only skin deep. As the narrative progresses  Suezo  acting on a slight impulse buys Otama a pair of linnets which can read as being the first appearance of two metaphors used in the narrative, after Otama has hung the cage up in her house in Muenzaka, the narrative flows into focusing on Okada's perspective, coming to the rescue of the birds when the cage is attacked by a snake. Gan finishes with many threads left unresolved, it leaving it up to the reader to imagine the continuous lives of it's characters.

Gan has been translated into English twice, as The Wild Geese by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein, published by Tuttle Publishing, and again by Burton Watson as The Wild Goose published by Center for Japanese Studies Publications, University of Michigan      


Rise said...

One of my favorites. I read this in the Ochiai-Goldstein translation 2 years back. Will read it again next month in the latest translation. I'm glad to hear the time (150 years!) is very opportune. There's a film adaptation, The Mistress, that I hope to see too.

me. said...

It'll be interesting to see how the translations differ, hopefully I'll be reading some more Mori soon, I'd like to get a copy of Youth and Other Stories, although some of the stories are in anthologies that I already have. I've not seen either of the film adaptions, maybe one day!..

@parridhlantern said...

Sanford Goldstein and Kingo Ochiai (Tuttle)is available on Kindle & have now placed it on my wishlist.

me. said...

Looking forward to reading your post on it, I've still not got a Kindle or ereader, maybe I'll get around to buying one this year.