June Round Up! – #20booksof summer

The curse of 20 Books of Summer has struck again!

For yet another year, my reading is going really well, but the reviewing is falling by the wayside.

I swore I wouldn’t do mini-reviews, but I have to face facts. We’re one month in and by my calculations, I should have 6.66 books reviewed. I haven’t. I have managed to review the grand total of three. So, I’m going to do quick reviews of the two books I have read and while they both deserve a full review in their own right, I am afraid they are going to have to be disappointed in me.

norwegian

No 588: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is not at all what I expected from my first Murakami. I anticipated something weird, futuristic and challenging, but instead got a beautiful, languorous meditation on youth, love and the power of memory.

When he hears the famous Beatles song as he touches down on an international flight, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki, who committed suicide. The song transports him back almost twenty years to his student days in 1960s Tokyo, a world of faltering friendships, obsessive love, loss and passion, He recalls his consuming relationship with Naoko, conducted mostly at a sanitarium where she has chosen to stay and how their relationship is threatened by Midori, an impetuous and passionate young woman who forces Watanabe to choose between the future and the past.

The novel is set at a time of student unrest and volatile demonstrations, but this only serves as the background to a more delicate love story as Watanabe tries to recall all the details of this emotional time in his life.

What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?

If this were just a straightforward tale of a love triangle, Murakami would give answers, relationships would be cemented. What he presents instead is not a rose-tinted love story. It is an honest, beautifully written coming of age story that explores the difficult transition between adolescence and adulthood, where sanity and self-preservation are constantly under threat and ‘ordinary’ love is anything but ordinary.

”I once had a girl / Or should I say, she once had me,” are the opening lines of the Beatles song and they are an apt summary of this lovely, questioning book. Murakami gives us no resolution, but then this is a book of memory with all the shadows and whispers that memories contain.

Read on: iPad

Number Read: 159

Number Remaining: 587

yellow wallpaper

No 587 The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I did cheat slightly by including The Yellow Wallpaper in my 20 Books, given that it is really a short story. But what a story it is and I would argue, it packs more emotional intensity and vivid imagery into its 30-odd pages than a lot of novels I’ve read.

The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.

The Yellow Wallpaper has become a classic of feminist fiction, a pioneering portrait of the trauma of postnatal depression. Written with a barely concealed fury, this autobiographical horror story scandalized readers on its publication with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.

A century on and The Yellow Wallpaper has lost nothing of its unsettling power. The first person narration, in the form of a diary, gives it an urgent immediacy, and the fact that it was born out of Gilman’s own experience of mental illness, makes it undeniably prescient. The narrator is a nameless young woman who has recently had a baby. She is suffering from a ‘temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency’ as diagnosed by her husband and her brother, both doctors. Treatment for her illness is rest. She is confined in an upstairs room of a large country house and it is in this room, with a lack of anything else at all to occupy her, that she becomes at first disgusted, then enthralled and finally obsessed with the yellow patterned wallpaper.

I never saw a worse paper in my life. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide – plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions… The colour is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

Studying the wallpaper becomes her only self-chosen activity. She is not allowed to look after her child, see friends, read or write – so the examination of the wallpaper becomes a kind of freedom. Before long, she begins to see women trapped within the pattern, jailed just as she is. When she starts to see these women from her barred window, creeping in the garden below, her madness is complete.

I don’t like to look out of the windows even–there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?

The lack of mental stimulation has created a situation where she is literally bored out of her mind and Charlotte Gilman Perkins captures perfectly the eroding of her mental faculties brought about by the actions of the very people who were supposed to care for her. This is an incredibly well-written story, paced perfectly with a growing sense of paranoia and terror. It would be powerful enough without knowing the biography of its writer and as it stands is a stark rejoinder to the treatment of post-natal depression and the repression of the female mind.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 160

Number Remaining: 586

So how is everyone else doing in the challenge now that we are one month in? I am three-quarter of the way through THREE other books, so if I could just get them finished, I’d be close to be on track with my reading.

Do let me know how you are all getting on!

20 books

 

 

 

No 672 Out by Natsuo Kirino

 

out-natsuo-kirino

 

Natsuo Kirino’s Out is a gritty grimy tale of what people are capable of when pushed to their limits. Or more importantly, it is about what women can do when their circumstances become too much to bear.

Masako, Yayoi, Yoshie and Kuniko work together on the night shift in a boxed-lunch factory. Each has her own problems, spirally debt and violent husbands, the pressure of being a carer and ungrateful offspring. Their roles as mother, daughter or wife are proving unfulfilling and the work they are doing is unsociable and back-breaking.

Something has to give.

And when it does, it unleashes a world that these four women could never have imagined.
One night, when Yayoi discovers that her husband, Kenji, has lost their entire savings at a nightclub where he is infatuated with one of the hostesses she is pushed to her limits and strangles him with her belt. Turning to her friends for help, she enlists them (with the promise of money) to get rid of his body but chopping it up and disposing of the body parts in the garbage in and around Tokyo while she pretends he has left her.

When pieces of Kenji are finally found and Satake, the night club owner who fought with Kenji is arrested and a life insurance policy is about to pay out, the four women think they are free but they are about to spiral into a world of violence, revenge, blackmail and backstabbing.

The story of Out is a pretty unrealistic one. Would these women really risk everything for a work colleague? Not only that, would an ordinary woman so easily agree to cut up a body in her own bathroom? One of the women, Yoshie, sees the job is stark terms, just taking what she does in normal life one big step further

I always seem to be doing the jobs nobody else is willing to do…

If you go with this rather unbelievable premise, Out is a great read. Mainly because the story is less a slice of realism and more a frame upon which to hang a political discussion about the lives of women in Japanese society today.

All the women are taken for granted, by their partners and their families. Masako, who worked in finance, was laid off for speaking her mind. Kuniko, who is addicted to buying clothes and cosmetics is constantly reminded that she is not pretty enough to find work in a bar. Even Satake’s beautiful girlfriend Anna knows she has about five years left as a hostess before she too is consigned to working in much less glamorous surroundings. These are women without hope. And more dangerously, they are women with nothing to lose.

As the situation closes in around them and the novel sets up a denouement that pitches Masako against Satake, the women come to realise what it is they truly want from life and in some ways come to understand who they truly are and their subsequent fates appear to mirror their personalities. As the English title suggests, their trues selves are brought out. Masako, the strongest of the four from the beginning, finds within herself a strength of will that would have been unimaginable before and realises that this is her one and only chance to get out.

As she listened to Yoshie’s litany of woes, she felt as though they were all stuck in a long tunnel with no sign of the exit in sight. She just wanted out, to be free of everything. None of it mattered any more. Anyone who couldn’t get out was doomed to a life of endless bitching – the life they were leading now

The book is unapologetically violent and disturbing, but in some ways it has to be. To fully comprehend the unhappiness of these women, we have to see what they are willing to do in an attempt to alleviate that unhappiness. Kirino does not judge these women (except perhaps the disloyal Kuniko), that is left to us and as such, Out is less of a crime novel and more of an examination of forgotten lives in a society that prizes youth and wealth above all else.

 

4 Out, 16 In

4 Out, 16 In

 

20 Books of Summer: 4/20

Number Read: 75

Number Remaining: 671