Friday 15 December 2017

Spring Garden / Ms Ice Sandwich

(December 2017)

Another couple of books from Pushkin Press's lovely Japanese Novella series.

Like the final story in Record of a Night Too Brief, Spring Garden is also a former Akutagawa Prize winner, but this time much more grounded in reality. At least notionally. Since I’ve given up on reading blubs almost entirely I went into this blind, and while it turns out it’s fairly mimetic there’s also just enough ambiguity floating around the opening (and indeed closing) section to make you feel slightly uneasy. There are awkward questions, posed through the point of view of the by now standard Japanese millennial slightly disassociated from the world around them, that make you wonder if this isn’t going to be quite a sinister affair. It isn’t, but it is a well drawn if slightly shallow consideration of personal change expressed through architecture and the changing seasons. [Obligatory “four seasons” joke goes here.] The deployment of these twin metaphors was a little too transparent for my tastes, but only a little. A quick and diverting, if slightly unfulfilling, read.  (As an aside, I think there’s an interesting study to be done on the trope of women in contemporary Japanese literature binge-drinking as a signifier of non-conformity.)

Ms Ice Sandwich, meanwhile, is a shorter but somehow more interesting book. It’s barely ninety pages, and there’s a lack of ornamentation that’s actually really affecting—far more so than if it’d been hung of off a laboured metaphor or two. An elementary school student develops an oddly platonic obsession with a supermarket worker while forming a friendship with a classmate who, like the narrator, has also lost a parent at an early age. That, bar a slightly surprising detour via the movie Heat, is pretty much it.  I’m probably inclined to rate it more highly than otherwise because my eldest son started elementary school this year, but even so there are far worse ways you could choose to spend an hour.

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