I went out for a drink with some people from work last night. We went to a place in Covent Garden called The Porterhouse.
It’s a very curious place. It extends across three or maybe four floors. Or maybe only two, but with lots of mezzanines. It’s full of alcoves: everything, it seems, is an alcove. I have no idea, for example, how many bars it has. And in fact, I didn’t go to the bar all night. That, though, is because they have something that is remarkable in a British pub: table service.
Yes, it’s very strange. waiters come and go, collecting glasses and trays, but also, when asked, taking orders and returning — very quickly — with trays of beers.
So I spent the night drinking Caledonian 80/-. A taste of home, perhaps, but a) it was bottled; b) it was too cold to taste right; and c) it’s been such a long time since I drank it back home that it hardly counts. And I always preferred McEwan’s 80/-, anyway. Oh, and pizza. They serve food, too, and claim a woodburning oven.
It was a good night. But that pub. You know the old computer game that used to say, “You are in a maze of little twisty passages, all the same”? It was a bit like that. But mostly it reminded me of the house in HP Lovecraft’s ‘Dreams in the Witch-House.’
Oh, I suppose the angles weren’t really that wrong; that the walls were quite straight. But there were definitely too many rooms, and bits, and stuff: if not angles.
I read a review of this book in The Guardian years ago (this one, I think). It sounded absolutely fantastic, and I’ve wanted to read it ever since. But I only got round to buying it recently.
I was aware, of course, of the danger of approaching a work with unreasonably-raised expectations, so I tried not to. You can’t make yourself think “This won’t be very good,” when you actually think, “This should be pretty good.” The trick, therefore, is to convince yourself to have a slight seed of doubt. I’m not totally sure how well that can ever work, though.
I did enjoy the book, however: it starts with a light, easy style, and has an endearing central character in Sumire. The unnamed (though referred to in the back-cover blurb as “K”) narrator is a slightly-annoying, madly-but-unrequitedly in love with Sumire figure. They met at university. Sumire dropped out to write; the narrator went on to become a schoolteacher.
Shortly after the start of the book, Sumire, who has until then seemed largely devoid of any sexual or romantic feelings, falls in love with an older, married, woman; who then gives her a job as her PA. Sumire’s love is also unrequited; indeed, unspoken.
It’s when they go on a business trip to Europe, which culminates in a holiday on a Greek island, that something strange happens.
It is a curious book. It’s hard to work out what is supposed to have happened to Sumire. It is, until then, so much a realist novel that it is hard to believe that the apparently-fantastic, dream world sequence that is all the explanation we get, is meant to be taken literally.
Then when the narrator, having gone to Greece to help find out what happened to Sumire, returns home to Japan, there is an apparently-unrelated section concerning one of his pupils. He has been having a sexual relationship with the pupil’s mother, so when the boy gets into trouble, she calls him to help. This section really appears to have no connection to the rest of the story,, and no bearing on what happened to Sumire.
So while I enjoyed reading it, on looking back over it, it seems that it is deeply flawed. Or maybe I’m flawed, because I failed to fully understand it.
I expected that it would inspire me to read more of his work, but it hasn’t: or not yet, at least.