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.