Tuesday, 22 May 2018
The Monastery by Kurahashi Yumiko
The Monastery is an earlier story from Kurahashi which first appeared in 1961, a year after she had made her debut as a writer, it's available to read in a translation by Carolyn Haynes in the Kodansha collection The Showa Anthology. In the introduction to the story this earlier work is described as demonstrating her somewhat indecisive experimentation which in a way is a fitting description to her continuing writing, it feels that there is a fine line to the direction she wanted to commit or designate her characters to in her narratives, leaving the reader uncertain to the unfolding path is something that can be felt in her sentencing structure and speculative fictions. In this early work there appears certain motifs that perhaps are hallmarks of her interests - the wandering from accepted narrative norms, it feels that she has a preoccupation with historical settings even though this might not be confined to any particular epoch, the current story feels like it could possibly exist in a contemporary setting but at the same time there are no immediate pointers, it could be arriving from the fringes of a medieval period, there's a number of references; ancient swords, gigaku masks, also there's a sense of time being traversed, an aspect perhaps redolent in some of Nakagami Kenji, The Monastery has at times the feeling of being related as if in the style of a somewhat personalised chronicle.
Essentially the story is one of a love triangle, the narrator addresses the narrative to her betrothed, no particular name of this character is given aside from the betrothed being named as 'you', is this we the reader?, Kurahashi liked to blur points of reference and demarcations perhaps. Set as you might imagine in a monastery the narrator is the daughter of the abbot and her betrothed is set to succeed him after his passing, the relationship with the betrothed has the feel of being the more formal and 'business' one, although not mentioned perhaps it has been arranged?. These things we begin to understand after the arrival of 'K', a scholar of art who comes with letters of introduction from a university, K initially stays at Temple H. The buildings are described as a vast complex, K and the narrator explore the area in a frolic that is headily and sensuously described, to the narrator it feels that she is rediscovering the place in his company anew, there is a deep spiritual connection between the two - the contact of our hands no more than the inevitable closing of a circuit. The relationship grows, in some scenarios it's uncertain who is committing the initiating, the betrothed arrives, K departs, the narrator contemplates a three way relationship, there's an infatuation between K and the narrator that grows in intensity as the story progresses.
The descriptive prose of the story as well as the growing in it's intensity has the feel of one arriving out of the archaic and it feels that the events are unfolding from a distant time location, perhaps this is emphasised also due to the remoteness of it's setting, maybe again this is a frequent aspect of Kurahashi's writing, here a monastery and in The Adventures of Sumiyakist Q the setting is a reformatory, the locations are ones that are set away so to speak and Kurahashi seemed to also extend this sense of displacement in order to additionally free up the sense of time period of their setting. Added to this there are thematic lines occurring in the background, debate of suicide, there's an underlying voyeuristic element as the dueling relationships and characters are measured against each other. The story has a number of moments to ponder further as with the mention of the gigaku masks, a mask used in a somewhat lewd play of the Asuka Period concerning a love rivalry, which to a degree mirrors events or motives of this story. K returns and makes a forced fumbled advance on the narrator, a novice monk arrives who is passed an ancient sword by the betrothed, along with the description there is loaded implied meanings to also pass on to K. At the end of the story, which is a bloody one, there's a renewed sense that things have unfolded in a grandiose epoch, pallbearers, shadows cast, although the narrator observes the ceremony was little more than a purging of the violent death of a sinful outsider - there remains the sense that we've witnessed the tragedy of a forsaken love, arcadia momentarily turning bloody.