January is racing by and the January in Japan reading challenge is already halfway through, so it’s time for an update. Well, more of a confession than an update to be honest: I am finding this much harder than I expected.
Admittedly I probably shouldn’t have started with Underground by Haruki Murakami and its tales of poison gas on the Tokyo subway system. It wasn’t the most cheerful of topics and although the writing was good, the eye-witness testimony left me feeling disorientated and rather like I had just finished reading a piece of dystopian sci-fi. I couldn’t help feel horrified when I read again and again of witnesses sitting next to people who were dying while they looked the other way and thought about buying milk or getting to the office on time.
As a bit of a palate cleanser I read The Housekeeper + The Professor by Yoko Ogawa, a sort of love story revolving around a housekeeper, an older man who has a memory ‘tape’ of just 80 minutes and maths. The book is scattered with equations and mathematical theory and the occasional quote about memory. I honestly have nothing else to say about it, other that paraphrasing and spinning out the blurb, obviously. I finished it and had absolutely no response – a rare experience for me! Honestly, I turned the last page and it was like the reader’s equivalent of TV static. Which means it kind of did work as a palate cleanser, just not quite as I hoped…
So I went back to trying to read The Gate by Natsume Soseki as I have an electronic copy from NYRB here on my laptop. And I just can’t ‘click’ with it at all. It’s beautiful prose but so, so cold and motionless I just can’t find a way into it. I’m normally slower at reading e-books than physical books but it’s still a fluid experience, this book though was painful. It’s great formatting but somehow, because of the style, I am stumbling over every third paragraph or so and having to go back and re-read bits. I’ve decided to set it aside, perhaps another Soseki would suit me better.
I’ve got two more books to try, Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui and Twenty-Four Eyes by Sakae Tsuboi and I am rather hoping they are less stilted and cold; Paprika sounds like it might have humour to lighten it and Twenty-Four Eyes is about a teacher’s life long relationships with her community so it might have affection or at least familiarity to soften the fact it covers WWII towards the end.
Here’s hoping. I don’t think I can face any more cold, stilted, fragmented lives lacking humour, affection and compassion!