Banana Yoshimoto, Hardboiled, Hard Luck (Jap. 1999, Eng. 2005)

I didn’t want to stay for long with my bad impression of Yoshimoto’s Amrita, because her writer voice is so sweet and honest that it didn’t feel fair. She has the ability to reach out to readers even if her subject is strange or difficult and if she and us live worlds apart. But still, after just a few paragraphs she talks to you (yes, you!) as if she was your little sister. Only you never knew you had a Japanese sister… Her texts are indeed deeply ingrained in Japanese mentality, but in a modern, emotional way that we can easily relate to. So I felt I had to work around my previous disappointment and I jumped soon enough on this book actually made of two novellas both centred on the theme of grief.

“Hardboiled” is the strange tale of a young woman travelling alone by foot in the Japanese countryside and crossing a stone shrine that lets out evil vibes. Soon afterwards she reaches a small town where her whole experience will be marked by uncanny and ghostly experiences, reminding her of a dear friend who died exactly one year before. It seems completely stretched, and of course it is, but the sweet voice of the narrator saves it all. Being around ghosts seems something both natural and simple. I also appreciated that the writer spoke of a lesbian relationship without making a fuss about it (I don’t know if it’s rare in Japan but I suspect as much). I genuinely cared for this young woman and her girlfriend, in a way that kind of astounded me a few days after I’d finished the book. In a sense, I felt as if Banana Yoshimoto had cast a spell on me.

The second story was even more heartbreaking, with a young woman  coming to term with her sister’s death. The sister had a brain haemorrhage as she overstretched herself at work before her own wedding (how terribly Japanese, don’t you think?) and was thrown into an irreversible coma. The fiancé left her and got back to his family, never reaching out to the girl’s family, who hold a grudge against his weakness. But his brother continues to come to the hospital and soon a deep friendship develops between these two people united by loss. They might have fallen in love in other circumstances, but grief and the “other couple” make a tragic barrier for their relationship.

Yoshimoto expresses herself with simple and delicate expressions, you can’t avoid being touched by the pain and the beauty of the situations she presents. My guess is that she might be more comfortable with shorter forms than long ones, so I’ll definitely read her stories again.

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4 thoughts on “Banana Yoshimoto, Hardboiled, Hard Luck (Jap. 1999, Eng. 2005)

  1. This is one of the few Yoshimoto books in translation I haven’t read…I’m putting it on my to-read list! Have you read “Kitchen”? That’s my favorite of hers.

  2. I have read and posted on both of these stories-her work as a kind of gentle beauty and unobtrusive wisdom I have come to really appreciate-I have her on my read all she has written list (or translated)-I enjoyed your insightful post a lot

  3. Litlove – Yoshimoto is quite accessible for Western readers, so I encourage you to try her books!

    Elizabeth – Yes I read Kitchen a long time ago. My memory of it is fuzzy (it was before blogs allowed me to track and keep books fresh in my mind) but I’d liked it a lot at the time!

    Mel – thanks for dropping by! By some technical mystery I can’t read your blog, I just see the beautiful main picture but nothing more… I’ll try again another day. Re: Yoshimoto, you’re quite right about gentleness and wisdom! That’s why I kept returning to her.

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