I think I’ve found my new favourite Japanese fiction book! A while back I shouted into the twitter ether for help finding some Japanese horror novels. I’d read Koji Suzuki, Junji Ito and Ryu Murakami but I needed something new and just as scary. Someone (and Im sorry I cant remember who) pointed me in the direction of Edogawa Rampo.
I had never heard of Edogawa Rampo before and I was massively missing out. I managed to get hold of one of Rampo’s books called Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, translated by James B. Harris and published by a fantastic little publisher called Tuttle Publishing.
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination is a creepy collection of some of Rampo’s short stories. Much like his name these are very similar in style to Edgar Allen Poe but Rampo delves deep into the psychological darkness that haunt his characters. Rampo’s writing style feels modern considering some stories in this collection were written in the 1920’s. Compared to other Japanese authors of that time you can see the western influence in his writing.
If you’re not convinced so far then let me tell you about the first story in this collection:
It’s called The Human Chair and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a weird Japanese short story. The main character, ugly and unloved decides that his route to happiness means embedding himself inside a chair. The pleasure he derives from those who sit on him is grim to say the least.
This book is fascinating and has been beautifully produced. Harris’ translation is totally brilliant, he keeps the clues subtle and the captures the sense of mystery Rampo wants his readers to feel.
Anyway, if you’re a Japanophile like me make sure this book is on your TBR piles.
P.S. The chapter titles of this book use a Buffy The Vampire Slayer style font. What more could you want?!
I’ve just finished a book called Penance by Kanae Minato and I need to tell everyone about it.
A colleague first alerted me to Penance a few weeks ago. I didn’t think I’d heard of Kanae Minato before, to was only after googling I realised that she had written the novel Confessions, which was adapted into the most darkly upsetting films ever.
My spawn woke me up at 5AM the other morning for no reason, unable to go back to sleep I started reading Penance. By 7AM I was over half way through.
In a tiny Japanese village with the cleanest air, a factory is built bringing in new residents to this little community. Five young girls are playing volleyball when a stranger approaches the group. Within hours one of the girls is dead and the fallout from discovering their friend’s body haunts the girls for the rest of their lives.
Penance is the sort of book I would have finished in one sitting (if I hadn’t have had to go to work and look after a small child). I did manage to read it in a day even though I was interrupted too many times to count. When I finished this book I was shocked, numb and chilled. When I went to sleep I couldn’t help but think that a twee little Japanese housewife wrote this novel.
Penance is a story that will really chill you. I want to read everything Kanae Minato has written, reading her gave me the same rush I had when I first read Ryu Murakami. She’s utterly fantastic, brutal and manages to tap in a special kind of female darkness. I need to read Confessions. Minato’s writing is sensational and there’s something quite brutal about a Japanese housewife sitting down and writing this book.
This is a must read for crime fiction fans and even more so for Japanese fiction fans.
Penance is published by Mulholland Books and translated by Philip Gabriel.
After finishing Infinite Ground I needed to read something completely different. With two other books on the go (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and 2666) I did the stupid thing and started another book. I’d been going through a bit of a Japanese culture phase for the millionth time, I had recently finished watching Terrace House and was part way through watching Orange so I figured I’d start some Japanese literature.
At work I had recently come across copies of a new book called The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and recalled that this author had another book published not too long ago. After a bit of hunting around I found myself a copy of Strange Weather in Tokyo.
Strange Weather in Tokyo starts with 38 year old Tsukiko going for a drink on her own at a bar near the station and finds herself sitting next to her old high teacher, Harutsuna Matsumoto, whom she only refers to as Sensei. As Tsukiko and Sensei begin this restrained, polite friendship across the bar room and the reader is enveloped in Kawakami’s poetic, yet poignant writing. Early on Sensei comes across as quite a strange man with his collections of peculiar objects and mushroom hunting in a tweed suit but you soon realise that his bizarre nature offsets Tsukiko’s emotional absence.
The translator, Allison Markin Powell, does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the Japanese culture in the simple things like during the elegant pouring of sake. It is also worth mentioning that Strange Weather in Tokyo is a beautifully published book and Portobello books have outdone themselves with this title.
As the novella progresses if becomes surprisingly humous and the way Kawakami write about food really is something. After a few chapters I found myself pulling out my favourite cookery book, Tokyo Cult Recipes, to find some of the dishes mentioned in the bar room parts of the novel.
Strange Weather in Tokyo is the sort of book that makes you feel alive. Kawakami’s interpretation of love and friendship is warm, delicate and natural. The relationship between Tsukiko and Sensei is bittersweet and unnecessarily complicated.
Saying this book is a ‘gem’ is such a disservice to the novel. Strange Weather in Tokyo is a fleeting look at real, emotional love and upon finishing this novel I felt something in-between quiet grief and complete happiness because I’d just read something amazing.
I’d love to set myself a reminder to read this book again on my 38th birthday just so I can feel a little closer to what Tsukiko was feeling.
I had said in my last post that Murakami had put me out of sorts. I was struggling to find and enjoy new novel. I had finished Cell by Stephen King but I still had that weird post-Murakami depression, luckily it’s not long until The Strange Library is published. After feeling sorry for myself for a few days I decided to have a browse to see if I could find a someone new to read, as luck would have it on a quiet Sunday a new book caught my eye.
I pretty much have a preconditioned weakness for anything with Japan in the title so when I spotted Bending Adversity by David Pilling I knew I had to read it.
For anyone even slightly interested in modern Asia Pilling brings history, politics and economics to life in this outstanding look at Japan. Opening with a harrowing account of the 2011 tsunami, Pilling leaves readers in shock and astonishment of how Japan or any nation for that matter can overcome the level of devastation that follows a natural disaster. Within a few chapters I found myself looking up flight prices for Tokyo.
Pilling’s way of bleeding history, economics and social science is seamless. Even if you only have a tourists knowledge of Japan, Pilling highlights the triumphs of what can be a mysterious land and it’s equally enigmatic culture. Bending Adversity doesn’t shy away from Japan’s shortcomings either, discussing World War II and Japan’s early isolation from the rest of the world.
Pilling doesn’t overwhelm his readers with facts and figures but uses his strengths as a journalist to find anecdotes and relays them in elegant way, keeping the reader on board with every word.
Pilling’s writing is dignified and engrossing. Bending Adversity is easily the most interesting book about Japan to be published in years. Thanks David Pilling and Penguin for getting me out of a reading-rut.
2014 has been an outstanding year in publishing so far, tainted slightly by a extremely disappointing Man Booker long list, but all in all a great year for books.
On Tuesday my world was officially turned upside-down by the publication of Haruki Murakami’s new novel ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’.
Being a Murakami fan I had been counting down the days until I could finally read Colorless Tsukuru. Last April a friend from Osaka was visiting England and thoughtfully brought me a copy of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki over from Japan. It was stunning but knew very little Japanese so reading it was impossible. Murakami sat upon my bookshelf taunting me for more than year.
If you can get a copy of this from Waterstones do so because you’ll receive some exclusive Murakami-esque stickers. With my copy in hand I spent tuesday night devouring this book. Compared to some of the previous Murakami novels Colorless Tsukuru is relatively short.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is a semi-coming of age/ coming of middle age story. Tsukuru Tazaki has grown up Nagoya surrounded by his four closest friends and is one day discarded by his friends and told to never contact them again with no reason or explanation.
As I turned the last page of Colorless Tsukuru I was on a train travelling over the Charing Cross bridge and I felt such a lump in my throat. Murakami had weaved a beautiful tale that rivals Norwegian Wood. Like any Murakami tale it’s full of the same memes and tropes you’d expect but when you read something as well crafted as Colorless Tsukuru it gives you the sense of coming home from a long journey or the sort of comfort you get from meeting an old friend. I can’t wait to pass this book onto my dearest friends, Colorless Tsukuru is the sort of book to be loved and shared.
And yes the missing U from Colorless bothers me.
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage.
There’s very few authors that make me go totally ‘cray-cray’ when I hear that they have a new novel coming out but David Mitchell happens to be one of them.
Last year it was announced that in autumn 2014 David Mitchell would be releasing a novel called ‘The Bone Clocks’. My heart missed a beat and that’s when I realised that 2014 would be one of the most magical years ever. Stephen King, Haruki Murakami AND David Mitchell would all be releasing new novels.
Now unlike other David Mitchell fans I haven’t read his entire back catalogue, I’ve only read Number9Dream and Cloud Atlas. If I’m being truthful I enjoyed both of these books so much I’m a little scared to approch the rest of his back-list. I can honestly say I wouldn’t know what one to follow up these with?
Number9Dream is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read, my only regret is that I didn’t read it before my travels to Japan. Cloud Atlas was more a challenging novel but one that I finished thinking “I just finished a book that’s changed my life.” unlike other novels Cloud Atlas has reshaped how I read, it’s not an easy book and after finishing a masterpiece like this you become a lot more pernickety about what you read.
On 2nd September 2014 Sceptre will publish what I hope will become a modern classic. The Bone Clocks is a novel about… well why don’t you left David Mitchell tell you what it’s about?
So after hearing about this book last year my fingers were itching to turn the pages of this book and finally after what seemed a life time an advanced copy of The Bone Clocks arrived.
And as for my review, I’ll release that on the 2nd September 2014.
I love translated fiction. But there’s one sub genre that I love more than any and that’s Japanese fiction.
When I was about 12 or 13 years I was obsessed with anime and manga. My walls were lined rows upon rows of manga volumes. As I grew older I became less interested in anime and manga but my love of Japan grew. I think the first Japanese novel I read was Battle Royale by Koushun Takami I’d seen the film so I figured I would read the original text and my mind was blown. This was my first encounter with Japanese fiction, I found Takami’s writing style forceful and a lot of the violent scenes were writen to haunt the reader.
By far my favourite Japanese author is Haruki Murakami. Before my first trip Tokyo I’d had recently read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and this had been the first novel in years that had moved me. In a way Murakami had put my faith back in fiction, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is such a surreal journey but has characters that are completely normal. I don’t think this is Murakami’s best novel but it’s definitely a book that shaped me. If you haven’t read any Haruki Murakami before then I wouldn’t start with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I’d start with Kafka on the Shore, it’s Murakami’s take on a coming of age story. Easy to read if you’re not used to Japanese fiction or if you’re not familiar with Japanese culture.
My second favourite Murakami is Ryu Murakami. Now I made the mistake of buying a Ryu Murakami novel years ago thinking it was Haruki Murakami. I picked up a book called In The Miso Soup thinking it would be the same surreal and emotional back drop that Haruki’s books mostly have. Oh how I was wrong. In The Miso Soup is all about the dark side of Japan and is a genuinely disturbing novel. Violent, sadistic and the first book that made me feel a bit ill by the time i’d had finished it. For Stephen King fans this book is a must read, it’s almost the perfect psycho-thriller. Ryu Murakami’s other works are as equally disturbing and impressive.
I’d haven’t read a huge amount of Japanese fiction because I find it such a struggle to get into new authors. I like many book addicts get stuck in the habit of reading the same old thing. If you can recommend a Japanese author I haven’t stumbled across I’d love to hear about them, but in the meantime I’ll go back to counting down the days until the new Haruki Murakami novel is translated. As you can see, I’ve have a copy… but it’s in Japanese.