Two reviews for the Japanese Literature Challenge #JapaneseLitChallenge14

January in Japan might be over, but the Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza continues until the end of next month, so here are two more books by Japanese authors from the 746.

No 435 The Box Man by Kōbō Abe, translated by E Dale Saunders

I don’t mind weird books at all. In fact, sometimes I actively seek out weird books. But there’s weird and then there is The Box Man by revered Japanese novelist Kōbō Abe.

However, in an attempt to evade any form of identity, our narrator seems to have become a split one. He begins to spot other box men watching him (or ‘fake box men’ as he calls them); he may have been shot by an air rifle or he may have shot someone; he might be in love with a nurse who has a habit of taking her clothes off; in fact he might even be dead and someone else might be the real box man. At certain points it is hard to tell who the narrator even is.

I understand that Abe is exploring themes of isolation, identity and the inability to know even oneself, let alone other people, but I just found this so confusing as to be almost impossible to follow. I’m not averse to going with the flow in books, but this was just a step to far for me. I didn’t know what was going on at any point and I didn’t really care. Throw in a distinctly queasy attitude to women and this was a great big ‘no’ from me.

Read on: Book, Number Read: 311, Number Remaining: 435

No 434 Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Micheal Emmerich

Banana Yoshimoto’s Asleep features three thematically linked novellas which are all narrated by a young woman and all explore sleep, loss and grief. For all her characters sleep is not a state of rest and rejuvenation, but an indication of spiritual malaise.

In ‘Night and Night’s Travelers’, Shibami is still trying to get over the accidental death of her older brother Yoshihiro, but her pain seems pale in comparison to that of her cousin Mari, who was Yoshihiro’s lover and confidante. Wholly incapacitated by his death, Mari starts sleepwalking and it becomes clear that the truth about Yoshihiro’s other girlfriend, an American named Sarah, will have to be resolved for anyone to move on.

‘Love Songs’ explores a different kind of grief as a woman who is relieving her boredom by drinking a lot, hears haunting music before she falls asleep. her boyfriend believes it is the sound of someone from the afterlife trying to contact her and, with the help of a medium, she faces up to her feelings for a woman she thought was just a love rival.

“All the shadows cast on the floor were dark and clearly outlined; I was in a time cut off from the rest of the world. I kept staring at the shadows for a while, but I didn’t feel like doing anything so in the end I got back into bed.”

The title story, and the most successful of the three, features a woman who sleeps more and more in an effort to escape from joblessness, the death of her closest friend, and the fact that her boyfriend’s wife is in a coma, unlikely to awaken. Only a dreamlike encounter with said wife gives her the impetus to change the way she has been living.

There is a steady stillness at the heart of this collection, which belies the depth of emotion in each story. All Yoshimoto’s characters are trying to find the strength to keep going after a sudden loss and all retreat into sleep as a coping mechanism. The narrative voice is very similar in all three stories, which does mean they blur together slightly towards the end, but this is a haunting and atmospheric read which I would highly recommend.

Read on: Book, Number Read: 312, Number Remaining: 434

novels in translation The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

25 Comments Leave a comment

  1. There was a recent article on The Box Man over at The Guardian that made the book sound really gripping but I have yet to purchase it. I may put it off after your review.

    Banana Yoshimoto is a good writer from what I have read. I hope you can explore more of her works.


  2. I like reading experimental writing too but there has to be something that keeps you working at it doesn’t there? The Box Man sounds like too much hard work for little (if any) gain, I’d like to read something by someone called Banana though and luckily it sounds interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

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