Shortlisted for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Translated from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

By all accounts this is the most beloved of Kawakami’s novels and there have been a number of reviews in the blogosphere.  But what was I expecting?

The cover, a reproduction of one of Natsume Hayashi’s levitations, led me to expect something strange and quirky between the pages.  Well, it was certainly unusual but I wouldn’t call it strange or quirky, not even the weather.

Unusual in the sense of it being the story of a blossoming romance between a woman in her late 30’s and her former teacher, a man some 30 years her senior.  It is a romance that grows slowly from a friendship forged over many nights social drinking and one which both parties seek to avoid through reticence, refuge in the politenesses of Japanese conventions and, let’s not forget a lotta, lotta saké.  It’s not clear to the protagonists or to the reader at which point companionship turns to friendship turns to love.  This is something that is realised only when the paths of Tsukiko and Sensei fail to cross for a number of weeks.

A gentle story but, if I’m honest, too slow and repetitive for me … and I was concerned about the quantities of alcohol consumed.  Does anyone see some message in that, other than one of solitary people seeking to quell their loneliness through drink?

I won’t reveal the ending. I will reveal, however, that it was only at that point that the poignancy and charm of the novella truly asserted themselves.