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Fiction

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

The Lake

If you haven’t figure out the common thread in Banana Yoshimoto’s novels, it is death. Yes, all her stories are about death. Death of a mother, a sister, a dying friend etc. So get used to this. :)

I picked this up because I was curious and for some reason there was a lot of hype about the book when it was first published in 2011. I bought a used copy in Amazon last August.

It’s about a girl who looks out of her window and saw…

The story begins with Chihiro who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. While on her fame to become a graffiti artist, there were days when she stares out of her window and notices a young man who lives across the street who spends a lot of time staring out his window too.

..and saw a boy who seems to be out of this world…..

The boy is Nakajima and soon spends more and more time with Chihiro. Contrary to what a typical romance novel would take this encounter through the beaten path, these two people embark on a strangely hesitant romance. Nakajima’s silhouette of his back standing in front of the window looks beautiful and other worldly. Nakajima sobbed suddenly, afraid to visit his friends who live by the lake. Everything about Nakajima seems to imply that he has been through some kind of trauma.

But what exactly happened to him? The clue is the two monastic living hermits of Nakajima’s friend who lives near a small lake. One doesn’t talk very much, the other seems to have psychic power.

So suppose this is the little suspense that kept readers like me reading on to find out what happened to Nakajima. It’s a good thing that I didn’t read the blurb on the flap because it says the book “echoes of the infamous, real-life Aum shinrikyo cult (the group that released the poison gas in the Tokyo underground, remember Murakami’s Underground?).

The girl has some interesting philosophies about life ……

I think what makes Yoshimoto’s writing so accessible is because her writing is simple and honest. It gives you an unlikely glimpse into what the characters’ inner world. it opens up a different life philosophy that I never thought of.

When someone tells you something big, it’s like you’re taking money from them, and there’s no way it will ever go back to being the way it was. You have to take responsibility for listening.

My mother used to say that. What a stingy way to look at the world, I thought, and yet at the same time I realised it was probably true. so I’d gotten into the habit of withdrawing into myself whenever people tried to talk. – page 41 to 42

and what about this passage?

When I was young, I used to turn and look back at my mother’s face to make sure I knew where I was in relation to her; now, I had to take stock of my situation by myself. Sure I could see myself through Nakajima, but the second I glanced away I lost it. Parents are absolute; he wasn’t. – page 64

There are life philosophy that I agree with the protagonist, such as things look different depending on whose perspectives we are seeing, so:

“As I see it, fighting to bridge those gaps isn’t what really matters. The most important thing is to know them inside and out, as differences, and to understand why certain people are the way they are.” – page 127, How true, if everyone was more like that, we wouldn’t have conflict and war now.

My verdict is ……

In this book Yoshimoto taps into the experience of a mind which has been programmed (or brain-washed if you like) since early age and how it is unsettling to be out there in the wide world alone making your own decision and living a normal life. I like that Chihiro accepts Nakajima for his flaws and think about a compromise that will work for their relationship. There is no spark, or intense passion or chemistry, just this quiet and subtle budding of love between two people. For me that was the better part of this book.

Other than what I have said, I think this book is lacklustre compared to Kitchen and Goodbye Tsugumi, both are my favourites. In Asleep by the same author I said:

“Picking up Yoshimoto’s novel to read is like a quick bite. Like a Mars bar or a Snicker bar. It gets chewed on very quickly, you will probably like it and then you crave for the next one, but they will never fill you up or make you think about the last wonderful meal you had in Paris, candlelight, wine and the Eiffel tower in view.”

Unfortunately, the quick bite feeling applies to The Lake too.

Rating: three and a half stars

I read this as part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 6 and Tony’s January in Japan, which I thank both for being the main spur for me to read Japanese literature. Eva, LisaGavin and For Books’ Sake also read this too.

It looks as if this is the only Japanese literature book I can finish for this month, although I am half way through Out by Natsuo Kirino now, I don’t think I will finish in time by end of the January.

Japanese Literature Challenge 6January in Japan

Paperback. Publisher: Melville House 2011; Length: 188 pages; Setting: Tokyo, Japan Source: Own copy. Finished reading on: 13th January 2013. Translated by Michael Emmerich.

I thought Banana Yoshimoto looks a little different in her recent photo.

I thought Banana Yoshimoto looks a little different in her recent photo compared to this.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

  1. This is one I actually liked (probably because I went into it with low expectations!). She sets the mood nicely, and the dialogue wasn’t quite as annoying as it can be in her books. I agree that mentioning Aum shinrikyo does give the story away somewhat…

    Posted by Tony | January 29, 2013, 10:53 pm
  2. I. Agree that Kitchen and good bye Tsugumi are better books. I did enjoy this book a lot also.

    Posted by Mel u | January 29, 2013, 11:52 pm
  3. I haven’t read Lake yet and have only read her novel Kitchen (SO many years ago!). I remember really liking Kitchen so will probably read this one at some point

    Posted by Helen Murdoch | January 30, 2013, 4:20 pm
  4. only read kitchen like that but this one was to hyped when it came out reviewed every where think next I read by her be another earlier one ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | January 30, 2013, 4:37 pm
  5. I’ve read a few of her books but so far nonen was better than Kitchen. That will always be my favourite.
    I had no idea what this one was about.

    Posted by Caroline | January 30, 2013, 7:18 pm
    • Caroline,
      It’s about a strange boy who has a dark past and his past turns out to be one that is spent in a secluded secret cult community.
      Anyway, I better read a better book soon. “Flower of War” will be the next few books I will read. ;)

      Posted by JoV | January 31, 2013, 4:26 pm
  6. I read this a while ago and was disappointed.

    Posted by Mystica | January 31, 2013, 3:08 am
  7. Oh I still haven’t read this one, only Yoshimoto left for me I think, maybe that’s why. My favorites of her are, of course, Kitchen (don’t think it gets better) and N.P. (first one I read, still have a soft spot for it). I actually find that a lot of what she writes stays with me for some time, descriptions that suddenly come back to me.
    I’ll now desperately try to forget about the Aum shinrikyo :D But I am still excited for this one, as I’m also quite interested in representations of trauma. Oh now I think I have to read Underground, too!

    Posted by Bina | February 1, 2013, 9:53 am
  8. Wow that really is such a different photo of Banana Yoshimoto! My impression of her is in that other photo you link to, so that’s such a change!

    Posted by olduvai | February 5, 2013, 10:04 pm
  9. I wasn’t too impressed with this one either. I thought it had some wonderful ideas but it was too short to execute those ideas well.

    Posted by Athira | February 9, 2013, 12:10 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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