Monday 16 November 2015

Strange Weather in Tokyo

(November 2015)

Look, I’m as hacked off as the next man by the tendency for every Japanese author translated into English to get compared to Haruki Murakami, as if he’s the only author from the 10th most populous country in the world. Here, however, I think it might actually be justified.

A short, odd little book, this. I don’t want to use the word ‘quirky’ any more than I want to make the Murakami comparison, but then it looks like I’ve just done both. There’s a curious flatness to it. Not in the boring or unengaging sense, but more the feeling that the characters are floating along on the surface of the world without every actually engaging with, well, anything. In the world but not of it, if you like. The characters also have prodigious appetites, and food and eating feature a huge amount, which is very reminiscent of Haruki M.

It’s a May to December love story, basically, in which a detached thirty-something reconnects and falls in love with her old high school Japanese teacher. Quite a lot of “Why won’t senpai sensei notice me?” type angst, but all in all quite touching. Can’t say I loved it, but there’s definitely something going on here which makes it worth reading. The heroine hates the Tokyo Giants, which is always a good start, and manages to stubborn and slightly irrational without being annoying about it, which is also a difficult trick to pull off.

Basically this book manages to fall just the right side of a lot of lines it might otherwise have crossed. The title could have come across as an annoying promotional tactic, desperately trying to make the Japan connection without really being justified, but even that works, especially when you realise that the original American edition was titled The Briefcase, which is awful, and the original Japanese title was sensei no kaban—Sensei’s Bag—which is even worse. There are definitely worse ways to spend a two or three hours.

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