Thursday, 2 May 2013

In Pursuit of Lavender

Recently published from Anthem Press, a title selected by the JLPP which originally appeared in Japan in 2006 and is translated by Charles De Wolf, In Pursuit of Lavender follows two escapees from a psychiatric hospital who without any specific destination in mind embark on a road journey around Kyushu which becomes more revelatory the further they go. Their events are given to us from the perspective of Hana, whose history and condition begins to be relayed near the beginning of this ninety nine page novella, she hears a voice, a persistent male voice repeating- Twenty yards of linen are worth one coat , the meaning of this riddle and it's source remain elusive to her and thus us until its source is revealed to all later. In her past she suffered from visual hallucinations, a past suicide attempt saw her being admitted/taken to a mental hospital. The other character who joins her escape rather spontaneously is Nagoyan, a company man whose condition remains a slight mystery, perhaps work fatigue, later in the narrative he too displays suicidal tendencies, although Nagoyan is a nickname given to him when he was first admitted to the hospital as he pretended to come from Tokyo to hide his provincial background, which is a reoccurring theme running throughout the novella, the provincial against the metropolitan, Hana speaks with a Kyushu accent which Charles De Wolf has chosen to convey in his translation, but this attempt of Nagoyan to disguise his roots is a source of amusement to the other patients and bitterness and a deep resentment for him which runs until the final lines of the novella.
Allowed to walk to the local Lawson, they take the opportunity to escape and at first head for Nayoyan's apartment, (a 1LDK perhaps smaller rented by the company he works for), initially they scour his drugs cabinet in search of substitutes for their prescribed medicines, in an attempt to keep their side effects at bay, they visit an ATM where Nagoyan takes out a large sum of money, and then using his car they take to the road. As they travel larger portions of Hana's past is revealed, her ex boyfriend who dumps her after learning of her mental health problems, and the pair contemplate their punishment of 'private rooms', (locked rooms), if they are caught. The description of their route is detailed enough that if you wanted to you could follow the route they take via Internet mapping, through Kunisaki, the memorial museum for Yukichi Fukuzawa, passing the volcanic Mount Aso and later Sakurajima, to name but a few of the locations. There is no particular predetermined destination in mind, it becomes apparent that they are leaving their past lives behind, although near the end of the novella they begin to realize that the people they see are still living out these very lives that they feel they have escaped from, Nagoyan observes that they will no doubt at some point return to their former lives. The dimensions of their escape although large for them remains uncertain, as after they've been on the road for a while Nagoyan observes that the date of his proposed release arrives and then passes.
The relationship between Hana and Nagoyan remains platonic through the novel although on one occasion Hana contemplates the relationship becoming physical with Nagoyan, but on the whole Hana takes almost every opportunity to goad him about his attempts at covering his provincial background and desire to make it in Tokyo. Obviously the novel is looking at what we regard as being mental health or perhaps what constitutes mental abnormality, much of this is read in Hana's introspective reflections on her self and condition, at one point a series of voices and faces that she recognises but cannot name threaten to swap her thinking, looking back on her self  she observes - 'The delusory had a greater sense of reality, so that the real and unreal became indistinguishable'. Some of these reflections Hana mingles with the lyrics of songs by a punk band played on Nagoyan's cassette player. In another instance after an act of kleptomania Nagoyan throws an empty bottle of rum watching it smash he reflects on himself - 'I wish I could go to pieces in the same way', the overall feeling of the novella is the display that its a fine, perhaps fragile, line between the two. The purpose of the escape begins to take on a tangible purpose when Nagoyan proposes to find lavender which is known for its soothing aroma. At the beginning of the novel Hana describes her hatred of a certain drug used on patients that has diverse side effects which could be viewed as a comment on the treatment of mental health patients, which the novel is perhaps making in a broader context, although this message is not too explicit. 
The narrative is punctuated in a couple of incidences by slightly surreal happenings taking the novella to a temporarily different dimension, this is a thoroughly contemporary tale, which is at times is refreshingly irreverent, and provoking.        
In Pursuit of Lavender at Anthem Press



Unknown said...

Sounds interesting - a bit of a road-trip novel :)

me. said...

Definitely, the hardback is quite costly but there is an affordable ebook available through kindle.

Perhaps the translation might receive some criticism for choosing to convey the Kyushu dialect, always a point of contention in translating regional dialects, but I enjoyed this novel.