Thursday, January 5, 2017

readings in 2016

Another year ticks passed, an apt moment to jot down last year's reading history, this list doesn't include books already posted on, obvious resolutions apply, to read more ! -

1.Portrait of A Man - Georges Perec - MacLehose Press
2.Syrian Notebooks - Jonathan Littell - Verso
3.Ancient Tillage - Raduan Nassar - Penguin Classics
4.Rendezvous In Venice - Phillippe Beaussant - Pushkin Press
5.The Man Who Fell To Earth - Walter Tevis - Penguin Classics
6.Fat City - Leonard Gardner - NYRB Classics
7.The Trumpets of Jericho - Unica Zurn - Wakefield Press
8.A Cup of Rage - Raduan Nassar - Penguin Classics
9.But You Did Not Come Back - Marceline Loridan-Ivens - Faber and Faber
10.The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark - Penguin Classics
11.A Dream of Wessex - Christopher Priest - Faber
12.Journey Into the Past - Stefan Zweig - Pushkin Press
13.The Man In The High Castle - Philip K. Dick - Penguin Classics
14.High Rise - J.G Ballard - Fourth Estate
15.Madonna In a Fur Coat - Sabahattin Ali - Penguin Classics
16.Solaris - Stanislaw Lem - Faber and Faber
17.The Image of A Drawn Sword - Jocelyn Brooke - King Penguin - now Faber
18.Quiet Days in Clichy - Henry Miller - Penguin Classics
19.Radish - Mo Yan - Penguin Specials
20.The Café of Lost Youth - Patrick Modiano - MacLehose Press
21.Beast - Paul Kingsnorth - Faber and Faber
22.The Black Notebook - Patrick Modiano - MacLehose Press
23.Nutshell - Ian McEwan - Jonathan Cape
24.Confabulations - John Berger - Penguin
25.Dark Tales - Shirley Jackson - Penguin Classics
26.Echoland - Per Petterson - Harvill Secker
27.The Evenings - Gerard Reve - Pushkin Press 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Nocturne of Remembrance by Shichiri Nakayama

Amongst some interesting novels recently published from Vertical Inc. comes Nocturne of Remembrance, translated by Paul Rubin, a subtly dense and solid novel that dispenses with the usual sequential narratives seen in most crime novels, although opening with a gruesome murder, which is reminiscent of a scenario from one of Otsuichi's novels, the narrative reverts to the more formulaic when the main murder of the novel occurs in the Tsuda family, the character initially bridging these two story lines is Mikoshiba, who in the first is the guilty party, but in the second has progressed to a lawyer of renown with slightly maverick tendencies who takes up the case, although a big mystery hangs over his motives for taking on the case as he stands not to profit greatly, perhaps it's for free publicity, purposively the enigma remains throughout the novel until it's final pages.

After the initial description of the murder, on the surface a simple case - Akiko confesses to murdering her husband, Shingo, in the shower, the novel is largely taken up in describing Mikoshiba's day to day, and exploring his reputation and standing within his profession, eventually we see him beginning to re-investigate the case which he is taking up after the previous defence it appears was lacklustre in it's efforts. The narrative of the novel begins to find it's footing and adopts a more familiar gear after a hundred pages or so when beginning to explore Shingo and Akiko's relationship and circumstance leading up to his murder, describing Shingo being laid off from his job and falling into debt after becoming a 'shut in' and dabbling with online investing. In turn Akiko becomes estranged from her husband and his abusive and violent behaviour and his unwillingness to improve his situation, she turns her affections to a male colleague at work, but is the depth of this relationship imaginary and exists purely in her head on her part?. Over a number of pages the reader becomes embroiled with the setting up of what appears to be an obvious motive on Akiko's part, through Mikoshiba's repeated musings aspects of the case are gone over and the portrait of a familial disintegration emerges, but perhaps motives are seen only in half light, Nakayama's control of the direction of his prose and of what we see is watertight.

Without wanting to include spoilers, the full progress of Nocturne of Remembrance is a difficult one to relate in it's entirety, it repulses and fascinates in equal measure but at it's end you have to admire Nakayama's ability at diverting your attention and of hiding, perhaps you could say burying  the significant details that connects the various strands of this deftly constructed novel, the book does include one of the lead characters suffering a rare phobia - Aichmophobia, which stretches the boundaries of belief to a certain degree, but it's necessary, and before you know it you're reading a disturbing and bleak story of strange redemption stemming from a very dark starting point, where most of the participants shoulder various degrees and differing strains of guilt and which has journeyed, unflinchingly, through a whole trope of domestic dysfunction(s), Nakayama, it feels like is holding a mirror up to the darkest side of humanity.

Nocturne of Remembrance at Vertical Inc

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto

Forthcoming from Counterpoint Press, (many thanks to them for an arc), in a translation from Asa Yoneda is Banana Yoshimoto's Moshi Moshi which was originally published in Japan in 2010 as Moshi Moshi Shimokitazawa, and although quite a slim volume it's always a marvel how Yoshimoto can conjure up portraits that are both moving and engaging in such short space. Moshi Moshi is narrated by a young woman, Yoshie, whose father has recently committed suicide with a lover who by turns maybe a distant relative. After moving to Shimo-kitazawa, an area known for the diversity of it's eateries and shops, Yoshie finds her mother moves in to her small flat with her, after the loss of her husband she finds herself estranged from life as a 'Meguro madam'. Portions of the book bare similarities with Kawakami Hiromi's The Suitcase, as Yoshie works in nearby Les Liens, many scenes play out as she works at the restaurant,Yoshimoto's portrait of the characters of the lives of those working and living in the neighbourhood are vivid and there are descriptions of food and drink which may induce the reader to take pause and indulge. Reading as Yoshie and her mother look up and down the comings and goings from their apartment window of Chazawa-dori is evocative at all times.

At the center of the book is the mystery of the suicide of Yoshie's father and the woman who may have lead him to commit the act, and an additional flipside to the narrative is of Yoshie and her mother coming to terms with their loss. During this process they re-examine and re-address their relationship with one another and sift through family memories, all of this engagingly conveyed in Yoshimoto's simplistic, unassuming  prose which seems to offer new insights at each turn of the plot and each realization and renewed observation that Yoshie comes to understand. Through this plot of a suicide in the family Yoshimoto presents a subtle examination on the nature of self destruction and it's affect on those that are left behind in it's wake, but interestingly here it remains unclear how determined her father was in his actions, was he too a victim to another's desire for suicide?. Human fallibility is a theme that appears frequently in Yoshimoto's writing as it does here in it's subtle multi-layeredness which seems to surface in her characters as they encounter and open themselves up to each other before us.

As Yoshie pursues her thoughts and premonitions about her father's death it brings her into relationships with two men who had connections with him whilst he was alive which she hopes may give some insight into her father's motives or indeed to discover how much of a willing participant he was to his own death. Nestled into this narrative Yoshimoto adds a supernatural element, (another re-occurring aspect in her writing), with Yoshie's mother relating how she see's her father's ghost when she returns to the family home and of Yoshie's dream of the ringtone of her father's phone and of his wanting to contact her, what is it he wants to tell her?, all of these add impetus to Yoshie's pursuit for answers and some form of closure. In Moshi Moshi through it's jarring circumstance and the characters it involves we see Yoshimoto grappling the larger questions of what occurs when life derails and gives once again an affecting portrait of those left behind as they learn to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Moshi Moshi at Counterpoint Press

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

books for the reading diary - 2017

Apologies for the lack of posts lately, travels and life off line have prevented me from reaching my blog, I have kept an eye on some new titles however and have updated the list of books for the reading diary for 2016, and as we head into the closing months of the year it's difficult not to notice a number of titles now appearing to be scheduled for publication for next year, so in anticipation I thought I'd start compiling a tentative list of titles of interest, early days though, dates no doubt subject to change, but obviously would be great to see all of these make it to publication.


The Book of the Dead - Orikuchi Shinobu trans. Jeffrey Angles MUP 
Spring Garden - Tomoka Shibasaki trans. Polly Barton - Pushkin Press
Record of a Night Too Brief - Hiromi Kawakami - trans. Lucy North - Pushkin Press


Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems - Hirato Renkichi trans. Sho Sugita - Ugly Duckling Presse
The Maids - Junichiro Tanizaki trans. Michael P. Cronin NDP
Devils in Daylight - Junichiro Tanizaki trans. J. Keith Vincent NDP


Slow Boat - Hideo Furukawa - Pushkin Press


The Boy in the Earth - Fuminori Nakamura trans. Alison Markin Powell - Soho Crime
Penance - Kanae Minato - Mulholland Books


Men Without Women: Stories - Haruki Murakami trans. Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen - Knopf
Inheritance from Mother - Minae Mizumura  - Other Press


Ms Ice Sandwich - Mieko Kawakami - Pushkin Press
Me - Tomoyuki Hoshino trans. Charles de Wolf, with afterword - Oe Kenzaburo Akashic Books
In the Woods of Memory - Shun Medoruma trans. Takuma Sminkey - Stone Bridge Press
Beasts Head for Home: A Novel - Abe Kobo trans. Richard Calichman - Weatherhead Books


Sea, Land, Shadow - Kazuko Shiraishi trans. Yumiko Tsumura - New Directions

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui

The Secret of the Blue Glass was published originally in Japan in 1967 and has been recently published by Pushkin Children's in a translation from Ginny Tapley Takemori. Although for the younger reader the book makes for a deceptively layered read even for the adult reader, with it's setting covering the end years of the war the book sees it's characters facing it's harsh and tragic realities, it's main protagonist, Yuri being evacuated out of Tokyo. The book in many places is being mentioned in the same breath as of The Borrowers, as similar to that novel the book features the appearance of little people who are initially hidden away in the book room of the Moriyama family, whose various members secretly deliver milk to them in a miniature blue glass cup, the appearance of the Little People is connected to a Miss MacLachlan, an English educator who had come to Japan years previous. The narrative opens up more questions than it answers and full disclosure to some of the plotlines here remain unanswered, leaving many of the circumstances of character details left open at the end of the book, which is an interesting aspect that leaves the reader perched somewhere amongst the lives of a number of them.

An interesting juxtaposition to the book is that of the historical and the fantastical elements, over all the feeling that the novel conveys an anti war message can be felt, the novel also sees the father of the Moriyama's, Tatsuo, being imprisoned for having unapproved books on his shelves, which feels is a reference to occurrences of tenko for the younger reader. As well as observing the hardships facing the family, the narrative explores the world of the Little People and sees their perspective of the events unfolding around them, and also of the two children, Robin and Iris as they explore the possibilities of escaping the confines and boundaries of the book room with the aide of Yahei the pigeon. Visualizing the Little People in places is interesting, one might not help picturing them as stepping out from the movie La Planete Sauvage, the added detail that time worked more slowly on them, provoked the question how human are they?, what other dissimilarities do they possess?. Another subtle detail which arises at the beginning of the book but slips off  subtly and disappears is that it is a narrative within narrative, and also at the beginning there are references to other classics of children's literature.

As conditions worsen, the Little People evacuate with Yuri to Nojiri, to Aunt Toyo and Granny Oto's up in the mountains and into a rural isolation, food and milk become scarcer, Yuri is faced with ostracization when rumour circulates over the circumstance of her father's imprisonment, it could be seen that one of the central elements to the novel is that of the balancing of allegiances and commitments, (the bringing of the milk is proof and the sign of the Little People accepting or allowing themselves to be seen by the larger people), and of course the outcome and aftermath of war. Whilst in Nojiri, the juxtaposition of the harshness and extremities of the war is countered with further fantasy and the feeling that we are venturing deeper into folklore territory with the befriending of the Little People with Amanejakki, an imp who lives hidden away in a shrine. As an adult reader of The Secret of the Blue Glass it's tempting to start looking out for deeper allegories and symbolism within the narrative, but this aside The Secret of the Blue Glass presents also a fascinating diversion into the realm of alternate realities, a unique and valuable read.

The Secret of the Blue Glass at Pushkin Children's


Friday, May 20, 2016

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure

Perhaps on a first reading of Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, what first remains is a sense of distance imparted to the reader, although written and published in the immediate months after the disaster that hit Fukushima and the North East in 2011, Furukawa's blend of fiction and non-fiction, travelogue and memoir creates a space for contemplation and presents various perspectives of narrative, early on in the book the phrase 'use imagination for the good' reaches out and stays with the reader. With it's blend of voices Horses, Horses searches out for the narratives not found in official history books in an attempt to reclaim and present the authentic, there is a fascinating use of allegory within Furukawa's telling of the history of the horses associated with the area of the North East, in particular with Soma City which carries within it's name the word horse, reading this allegory and the way Furukawa has structured this element of the book brought to mind Julian Barnes's A History of the World in Ten and 1/2 Chapters, which similarly presents an alternate allegorical perspective of history. Furukawa pinpoints two figures from medieval Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Oda Nobunaga in his observations of historical paths.

The main branch of narrative of Horses, Horses is of Furukawa caught between writing projects and of the sequence of the events of the disaster unfolding, his personal history of this period is examined and then returned to when being both in and outside of Japan. This proceeds with him and colleagues from his publishers hiring a car to travel to the area to see how close they can go, (the slowly enlarging red circles of the exclusion zones feature), Furukawa toys with the notion of exposing himself to the radiation, and confronts suicidal feelings unexpectedly arising that he assumed he had over come in his youth. There's a measured economy to the prose, the reader very much gets the sense that although with the literary experimentation, the dipping into fiction and non-fiction, (in places in a talking direct to the camera type of way, with the appearance of a character from one of his novels in the car that they are travelling in), Furukawa is not attempting to place words where they cannot be placed, it very much feels that apprehension is never too distant from the surface.

Along the way there are number of names referenced, one of the first being The Beatles in particular their songs Strawberry Fields and Tomorrow Never Knows, with it's screeching sound at it's beginning which sounds similar to that of the squawk of a gull, poetically evocative of being at the coast and in a way a warning cry. A number of Japanese writers are mentioned, in particular Miyazawa Kenji and Nakagami Kenji, both writers Furukawa obviously has an affinity and strongly identifies with, similar themes and motifs appear in their works, animals, and the sense of alternate histories being written and born out of alternative myth. Another aspect that appears whilst reading the book is a rather pensive sense of apprehension and fear, this is highlighted in the quote that Furukawa borrows from Nakagami, and Furukawa later examines this fascination of dates - 3.11 - 9.11, and of how these events cannot be confined to a single day, although the book has the subtitle - A Tale That Begins With Fukushima, it also feels that it resembles a memoir of an approach. Throughout these narratives there are incidences of subtle poetical examinations of the second part of it's title - that of light and in one place the prose arrives at a stop and Furukawa turns to poetry to express himself. Throughout it's various modes of narrative Horses, Horses moves and posits questions in equal measure.

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker and Akiko Takenaka is available via Columbia University Press

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nakagin Capsule Tower - a book prompt

Another book prompt post about a title that came out at the end of last year about a building that I've known about for a long time but not know much about perhaps when I get a copy of this book that'll change. When I was young I remember watching a science programme that featured the building, which was presented at the time as being the way of the future, as far as I understand the building has recently been under the threat of demolition, due to it becoming unsafe and also of the asbestos used in it's construction, a sad thing as the building is unique and very much deserves saving. In spite of this the building is in the throes of being rescued, restored and open again to the public to stay in, which one day I'd love to do, but in the meantime there's the book.

more info on the building at Wikipedia.

the book at Amazon

Nakagin Capsule Tower Facebook page

the building's webpage

Monday, February 22, 2016

a cat, a man & two women by Tanizaki Junichiro

Reissued by New Directions, a cat, a man and two women was originally published by Kodansha International, translated by Paul McCarthy, this new edition also includes his original Preface, this translation received the Japan - U.S Friendship Commission Prize. New Directions have done a great job with this edition with a striking new jacket including art from Tsuguhara Foujita, and also of note is the mention on the reverse that two more novels yet to have been translated into English are on the way, which is news to look forward to. Recently they've also given attractive new covers to Mishima's Confessions of a Mask and also Death in Midsummer.

a cat, a man and two women collects three of Tanizaki's short fictions, the last Professor Rado is in two parts as it was originally published in two installments, as was the title story. The second story is The Little Kingdom/Chiisana okoku, which when you discover that it first appeared in 1918, the same year as Akutagawa's Hell Screen, makes you wonder agape again at the span of Tanizaki's writing career, which takes in three era's of modern Japanese history. The Little Kingdom follows the fortunes or misfortunes of a provincial teacher caught in a power game within the children of his class which he himself becomes entangled with. As Paul McCarthy mentions in his informative Preface themes of domination and submission appear in the story, themes that preoccupied Tanizaki throughout his writing.

It's been sometime since I've read Tanizaki, but reading a cat, a man and two women brought the realization of how Tanizaki incorporates the epistolary into his writing as all though I've not checked, a number of his pieces seem to either open or feature letters written by or between his central characters, it seems that this is a perfect vehicle to open scenarios and windows into his character's consciousness and psyches. In the title story this is done to great affect in Shinako whose letter at the opening of the story requesting the handing over of the cat that Shozo is so enamoured with sets the shifting of the story. Essentially the story is a menagerie a trois with the additional central character of Lily, the cat, who becomes the pivotal factor in the relationships between Shozo and the two women in his life, his divorced wife, Shinako and new wife, Fukuko. Tanizaki's usage of Lily in Shinako's care and the shifting of her empowerment within affairs is masterly conveyed. Another aspect of the story of note is that of it being set firmly in the Kansai area, rather than that of Tokyo, Tanizaki famously moved to the area. Envisioning the stories here, it's quite easy to picture them as early black and white films, it comes as little surprise to know that early in his career Tanizaki was a script writer for Taishō Katsuei, or literary consultant as it's Wikipedia page mentions. Although coming from a background of reasonable comfort, Shozo appears as a rather feckless character who eventual succumbs to the encroaching web of conflicting affections between the three.

The last story out of the three is Professor Rado which seems to display the hallmarks usually associated with Tanizaki - masochism and off beat sexualities, the story was originally published in two parts, the first in Kaizo in 1925 and the second in Shincho in 1928. In a way it could be said that it displays some early aspects of the Ero guro. The story is conveyed by a journalist assigned to interview the Professor who when they meet displays an affected appearance and strange mannerisms and conversational manner, question marks and rumours emerge over the Professor's household. In the second part the journalist catches up with the Professor again at a variety performance where the Professor begins to show an extra special interest in one particular performer who is rumoured to suffer from the symptoms of syphilis, the journalist agrees to gain more information about the performer who appears to always remain quizzically silent during performances and has a mysterious past. The story has a certain voyeuristic quality to it as the revealing scenarios of the plot are relayed by the journalist in a clandestine manner. a cat, a man and two women offers an interesting showcase of Tanizaki's styles and themes, and it's great that New Directions have rescued it from lapsing into being out of print, very much looking forward to the two forthcoming novels.

a cat, a man and two women at ndp  


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance

A book that I'm very much looking forward to, due in March from Steidl, Provoke: Between Protest and Performance accompanies the first exhibition dedicated to the magazine of the late 1960's. The exhibition, which began in Vienna at the end of last month and continues on to four locations, ending at The Art Institute of Chicago in May 2017. Sadly be unable to see this exhibition in person, be the book is very much looking like an essential substitute, the book is edited by Diane Dufour and Matthew Witkovsky.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance at Steidl Verlag

and at Amazon

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

The January edition of Granta continues the momentum of translations of Han Kang into
English with the short story The Fruit of My Woman from 1997, in her translator's note at the end of the story, Deborah Smith notes that it can be seen as a precursor, with some of it's themes similar to those that can be seen in The Vegetarian.  

The Fruit of My Woman at Granta