Review of The Bear and the Paving Stone by Toshiyuku Horie, translated by Geraint Howells
This short story collection has three stories in it. In the first, the title story, a man visits his friend from Petanque in Western France and has a weird dream involving the footpath becoming bears. Further to this, both recollecting of the past and looking at the present where the narrator gets to know the friend's neighbour and her blind son. The friend is Jewish and there is remembrance to events of World War 2 in the novel. The second story is about the narrator joining a woman on a beach to remember the anniversary of her brother's death (his friend) and the third involves two friends breaking into an old castle, one where the groundskeeper would even refuse the President of the Republic if he didn't have proper authorisation
The Bear and Paving Stone * * * * *
Sandman is Coming * * * 1/2
The Old Castle * * * *
All three stories were very good and I really enjoyed this collection, rather than full plotted stories, this is more about interaction between people than intrinsic plots and complicated storylines. At times, funny, other times heartfelt, it is always a pleasure when a short story collection does not let me down in the reading of it.
* * * *
Review of The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell.
The Nakano Thrift Shop is set in a thrift shop in Tokyo. The main character and narrator is Hitomi, a girl who gets a job in the shop owned by Mr Nakano. The other main characters with them is Mr Nakano's sister, Masayo and employee Takeo. Each of the chapters is named after an object that the thrift shop uses but this isn't about the shop itself but those that work there. This is the second novel of Kawakami's that I read after Strange Weather in Tokyo
Hitomi has a little thing for Takeo, a guy that was damaged through the effects of bullying in school, he is also somewhere between asexual and demisexual. Mr Nakano is married but having an affair with a woman that works in a similar line. Masayo is seeing a married man.
Quite an endearing read, I enjoyed both Kawakami's style and the gentle humour in the novel. This novel revolves around quite an endearing cast of characters, ok I've used endearing twice in this paragraph so time to wrap up the review.This is just a novel I loved, once I got out the comparison between the shop and Auntie's Wainwright's shop in Last of the Summer Wine
* * * * *
Review of Record of a Night too brief by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Lucy North
Record of a Night Too Brief is a collection of 3 stories by Kawakami, originally published in Japan in 1996, each is about 50 pages long.
The first was the title story about a girl and her porcelain girlfriend take on a journey in a dream, followed by a mist and meeting various things like kiwis and moles.
The second story Missing was told by a girl whose brother vanished, but she could still see him at times. The brother was engaged so the family decide the second brother to take his place in the engagement.
The third is about this girl who gave up teaching and now work as a shop assistant in a shop selling buddhist rosary beads (is if right to call them rosary beads. The story does refer to them as such). In her apartment, she comes across a snake in human form. I think the setting bore similarity kawakami's splendid the nakano thrift shop. However apart from girl in shop and a boss, that is where the similarity ends.
As each story is short, one sitting reads, I don't want to say too much but I found these to be wonderfully surreal reads, told with a clear voice. My favourite was missing, for me this was a 5 star story while the title one was my least favourite but still a really good 4 star read. The third story was 4 and a half read so overall.
* * * * 1/2
Seventeen bills itself as "an investigative thriller in the aftermath of an air disaster". Truly, it isn't.
Instead, Seventeen is a competent and intriguing evocation of the inner workings of a local Japanese newspaper, the North Kanto Times, using the backdrop of an air disaster on the paper's doorstep to allow simmering resentments and rivalries to boil over. We are introduced to Kazumasa Yuuki, who is trying to make an ascent on Tsuitate rock face some seventeen years after making a promise to his colleague, Anzai, to climb the face with him. This leads Yuuki into a spiral of reminiscences of the events seventeen years ago, where the planned ascent of the rock was interrupted by the crash of a Japanese Airlines 747 into a nearby mountain, causing the deaths of 524 people.
Seventeen years ago, Yuuki had been a roving reporter with the North Kanto Times, assigned to lead the Air Crash desk. He was responsible for sending reporters out into the field, editing their stories, deciding the layout and, ultimately, which stories would make the cut and which would not. Yuuki was the most experienced reporter at the paper who had not gone into management, leaving him both respected and shunned.
The paper itself was constantly compromised in its effort to sustain circulation. It could not make political statements, could not ally more with one side than another (a problem in a province where the two main rivals in Japan's ruling political party held their bases), and shunned real news in favour of reporting local school sports fixtures, naming every player in an effort to sell the paper to kids' parents. But politics loomed large in the boardroom where the chairman and managing director were engaged in a bitter power struggle, sucking staff into one faction or the other.
So when the 747 went down in the paper's area - despite not being on a major flight path - the paper entered an existentialist crisis. The natural instinct of a journalist is to go after a scoop, but when the scoop comes, the fear is paralysing. Nobody knows how to play it, and the temptation is to retreat to the familiar comforts of routine basketball games and ceremonial openings of arts festivals. This is the context into which Yuuki is thrust - with all eyes on him. And at the same time, Yuuki has his own personal issues to resolve, not least of which is the sudden collapse of his climbing buddy Anzai from the circulation department...
Seventeen is a very complex novel with many characters and a network of relationships between them. It can be tricky to keep up with exactly who is who, particularly for anglophone readers who are not attuned to Japanese names. Hideo Yokoyama includes little summary lines when reintroducing a character to remind us of their role - this can feel irritating and repetitive, but without it I suspect the reader would be hopelessly lost. A further issue raised by the complexity is the uneasiness the reader will have in discerning what is actually the focus of the novel. Is it the plane crash? Is it the office politics? Is it Yuuki's personal situation? In truth it is all of these and none of them. It is really a slice of drama, a fly on the wall, from a newspaper office at a time of crisis. There is no particular beginning and no end. There is no great narrative arc, no moral, no winners and losers. It just is.
And then there's the present day, climbing Tsuitate. I can see that there was a need to have the odd period of relief from the intensity and claustrophobia of the North Kanto Times - and the open air and focus on small, technical details of the climb provided that. It also offered an opportunity for Yuuki to put some distance between himself and the events of the past. But this came at the expense of elevating one strand of the story - Yuuki's personal life - above the others in significance even though it was perhaps not the most prominent line at the time of the disaster.
Overall this is a complex, thoughtful and thought-provoking novel that has been somewhat cruelly mis-labelled to give a sure-fire guarantee of disappointing many of its readers.
Murakami’s third novel continues the story of the Rat, a character that featured in the first and second novel. The Rat is once again not the main character, more a catalyst for the exploration of mystery the unnamed narrator is sent on. Apart from the Rat I don’t think anyone is named in the novel. Even the narrator’s girlfriend is just talked about as she etc.
As always Murakami heads down avenues of thought that on the surface seem commonplace but with just enough twist to make the tale seem surreal. I always come away from a Murakami book with more questions than answers and perhaps that’s another reason why I love them. They don’t explain everything. Life is mostly an unresolved wander to death and Murakami seems to reflect that in his writing.
This novel seems to be the beginning of his interest (obsession?) with religion and cults. Having read some of his later novels I can now see the germinating seeds of thought in this novel. The story flowed easily as good tales of travel and mystery do, possibly making this a good place to start if you want to explore the other horizons found in Murakami’s work. Also even though it is the third in the Rat trilogy you don’t need to have read the first two to follow this story.