3 of the best: Contemporary Japanese Fiction
The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura
A brilliant debut novel about an isolated young student who comes across a gun on the banks of a river. This is a story about obsession, empowerment and ultimately violence and is set in a starkly noirish rendering of Japan. Nakamura's prose is succinct and functional yet deeply resonates. I've read a lot of Japanese fiction but The Gun was my first by Fuminori Nakamura, it won't be my last.
290 pages, published by Soho Crime
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
The central plot of this neat story is Tsukuru's search to understand why his four closest school friends suddenly, and without warning, give up all communication. Cue themes of rejection, loneliness and solitary reflection which run through so much Japanese fiction.
What's different here are the Murakami motifs which recur over and over; the soundtrack (in this case Liszt's 'Le Mal du Pays'), surreal dream sequences and characters with profoundly deep emotions. This is the perfect blend of the mundane and the mystical, the everyday and the enigmatic.
338 pages, published by Vintage
The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami
The Nagano Thrift Shop is a story about a young woman, Hitomi, who starts to work behind the counter in a traditional neighbourhood second-hand shop owned by the enigmatic Mr Nakano. The narrative is very much Hitomi's but the novel is structured with myriad characters who come and go along with the curios in the shop, each chapter is in fact named after a particular item on sale in the shop e.g. 'Bowl'.
I read the shop itself as a metaphor for an alternative Japan - this is a home for drifters and aesthetes rather than career men or women. The shop itself is in a residential neighbourhood, rather than a downtown business area like Shinjuku, which is interesting for readers of the translated version.
256 pages, published by Portobello Books