book review – ‘record of a night too brief’ by hiromi kawakami

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I’ve done a terrible job of keeping up to date with posting book reviews lately. Life gets in the way; other books get in the way; other writing gets in the way. Excuses aside, I’ve been through some great novels of late and will be attempting to post at least one review per week, beginning today.

Book blurb (from Amazon) – The Akutagawa Prize-winning stories from one of the most highly regarded and provocative contemporary Japanese writers: part of our Japanese novella series, showcasing the best contemporary Japanese writing. In these three haunting and lyrical stories, three young women experience unsettling loss and romance. In a dreamlike adventure, one woman travels through an apparently unending night with a porcelain girlfriend, mist-monsters and villainous monkeys; a sister mourns her invisible brother whom only she can still see, while the rest of her family welcome his would-be wife into their home; and an accident with a snake leads a shop girl to discover the snake-families everyone else seems to be concealing. Sensual, yearning, and filled with the tricks of memory and grief, Record of a Night Too Brief is an atmospheric trio of unforgettable tales.

I was hooked on this collections of short stories from the opening line: “What was that itch on my back? I wondered. And then I realized that it was the night — the night was nibbling into me.”

Beautifully translated from the Japanese by Lucy North, Kawakami’s trio of stories leave a striking impression on the reader. Reading these tales is like being caught in a surreal recounting of dreams, or rather more like recalling and reliving the dreams of another, ethereal, dark, and sublime. With these stories the reader can’t be distracted by over-concentrating or over-thinking — you have to give yourself up to the reading, to the journey into something akin to the absurd. Fantastic events occur on nearly every page and no one, not even the narrator, gives any of these occurrences a second thought. The fantastic blends with the mundane seamlessly. The nearness of these stories to magical realism had me thinking of Marquez or Murakami, but Kawakami’s approach is entirely her own.

Kawakami’s writing is lovely, expressing an expansive imagination and a unique approach to storytelling. The stories are contemplation provoking, touching something deeper than mere analytical in the dedicated reader. I’d not experienced her before, but I will definitely be delving deeper in the worlds of Kawakami in the future.

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