Translated by Geraldine Harcourt

This was a book that was flagged up by Cathy and Rebecca as a buddy read for literature in translation week during Novellas in November, but I ran out of time for it in the autumn. Instead I read it this month as part of my focus on Japanese culture during what I’m cunningly calling Japanuary, and as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.

The story, published in the late 1970s, covers a year or so in the life of a young woman who has split from her husband, and who is living alone with their 2-year-old daughter. The woman finds a small flat at the top of an office building, works in a library, takes her child to daycare and struggles with loneliness and the difficulties of single parenthood.

I sympathised with the mother, but found myself feeling particularly sorry for the child, whose mother seemed to expect bizarrely advanced levels of maturity from a little girl that was barely more than a toddler.

The main glaring incompatibility with reality that kept hitting me was: how does this woman manage to oversleep in the morning when she has a 2-year-old?! While raising my three children I spent what felt like and probably was 10 years sleeping no later than 7am and often being forced – extremely loudly, by inconsolable, relentless wails – out of bed for the day in the pitch dark, long before 6am, before even the children’s programming had started on the TV and when I certainly wasn’t inclined to get the poster paints out. So I mainly thought, repeatedly, “HOW????”.

My biggest fear at that particular time was sleeping late. More often than I liked to remember, it had been well after ten when I came to. I’d received repeated warnings, both from my supervisor and from the [daycare] centre.

I also failed to relate to the protagonist when she lost her daughter in the (MASSIVE) park and seemed weirdly complacent about the whole experience. Then she is mortified by what seem like standard-issue toddler tantrums, and what on earth was the doctor prescribing the child?! Or maybe it was for the mum – fair enough – and I’ve misunderstood:

And then came these frenzies of rage, triggered by what seemed to me oddly trivial complaints. I took her to see a doctor, who gave me a prescription … I was sure my daughter couldn’t have had a tantrum at daycare yet or I’d have been told.

I got so bogged down in, preoccupied by and let’s face it a bit triggered by what seemed to me a frankly implausible experience of child-rearing that any appreciation or analysis of the actual writing was impossible for me! Having said that other people whose opinions I very much respect have written far less ranty and much more measured responses to this book, and have loved it.

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7 Comments

  1. Hi Imogen, That does sound odd, and I can see why such glaringly implausible situations at the centre of the novel would make it hard to appreciate or analyse the rest of it. I don’t have kids myself, but even I know that those reactions sound strange, and regularly sleeping in until after ten with a toddler to look after is just bizarre! I see the quote on the cover mentions “moments of strangeness that linger in the mind”, so maybe it’s deliberate? Can’t think why, though, and I don’t think I’ll be reading this one to find out!

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    1. Thanks for reading my review. I’m enjoying reading lots of Japanese fiction at the moment, but yes, this wasn’t my one of my favourites and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend! It was a break from dystopia though, which seems to have accounted for quite
      a big part of my Japanese reading!

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  2. Very good point and I also didn’t understand the sleeping, but figured this was a symptom of depression or something, that she didn’t have the same watchfulness or half-awake awareness that most parents have when it comes to their kids crying…

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    1. i did think the woman was clearly depressed, and felt that she might be able to lie there awake but feeling unable to move because of the depression… but to literally be able to sleep through a toddler crashing about, screaming, falling over etc etc seemed impossible!! Pretty sure the child would have been clambering all over her too. But I’ve definitely over-thought this point to the exclusion of everything else!!!

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  3. To be fair, I have no children and would still have found that implausible, I’ve never managed to sleep in in a house containing any sort of small child! And the other stuff. How odd. I have ummed and erred about this one I have to say, not convinced I’d love it.

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