Room for Yet Another Book List?

It’s been a year of excessive reading. Define excess? I suspect 189 books (even if a handful of those were graphic novels) fit the criteria. This has not always been reflected in the amount of reviewing I’ve done. Perhaps I used reading as therapy, to blunt the senses, stop thinking too deeply – always safer to divert your thinking to fictional problems or other people’s plight. It also keeps you snug and warm, away from writing and exposing your clumsy way with words and your fear of failing … yet again.

But I am grateful for all the books that kept me sane and balanced this year. Here are my top reads by category (not all of them were published in 2014, needless to say):

niton999.co.uk
niton999.co.uk

1) Poetry:

Mihaela Moscaliuc: Father Dirt  – for teaching me to push boundaries and be truly fearless in my writing

2) Non-fiction:

Andrew Solomon: Far from the Tree – for redefining parenting and commitment to the family

3) Crime fiction:

I’m going to cheat a bit in this category and refer you to my Top 5 Crime Picks from Crime Fiction Lover. One additional book that would make the list, but which I read too late to include there was Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters.

4) Short Story Collection:

Vienna Tales – selected and translated by Deborah Holmes – for sheer variety, its unbeatable location and nostalgia value

5) Rereads:

With thanks to Tony Malone for challenging me to turn to my old love of Japanese literature once more:

Murakami Haruki: Kafka on the Shore – dream-like sequences, a library, a coming of age story and talking cats – need I say more?

Enchi Fumiko: The Waiting Years – almost unbearable depiction of the lack of choice of Japanese women during the years of modernisation and opening up to the West

6) Non-Crime Novels:

What do two sweeping, panoramic, ambitious novels, trying to encompass a multitude of voices and experiences, and a much more intimate love story between desperate people from different cultures have in common? Unforgettable voices and characters.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah

Kerry Hudson: Thirst

Tore Renberg: See You Tomorrow

I also owe you a few reviews of books which I’ve only recently read :

  • ‘Euphoria’ by Lily King – a story of anthropologists doing fieldwork in the 1920s; I want to write a longer review, comparing fiction to reality to Margaret Mead’s own account of events in ‘Blackberry Winter’
  • Pascal Garnier’s ‘The Islanders’ – the anti-Christmas family gathering
  • Tove Jansson books I gifted myself for Christmas – comparing biography to her own memoirs

but I’ve run out of year to…

 

 

Audition by Murakami Ryū

MurakamiRyuMurakami Ryū (who is sometimes unkindly called ‘the lesser-known Murakami writer from Japan’) was actually the first Murakami to achieve fame with his 1976 novel of disaffected youth ‘Amost Transparent Blue’. [By comparison, Murakami Haruki’s achieved national recognition with ‘Norwegian Wood’ – not his debut – in 1987.] He has continued with this exploration of the excessive materialism of Japanese society and its increasing indebtedness to Western (mainly American) culture in virtually all of his subsequent novels. His very pessimistic view of contemporary society leads all of his characters to feel like outsiders, alienated, baffled and often resorting to extreme sexual or violent behaviour.

After reading some of his previous novels, I considered Murakami Ryū to be the merciless sociologist and realist of his time and his country, while the other Murakami (whom I also like) chronicles more personal, nearly surrealist journeys. Yet this novel, ‘Audition’, feels much lighter and more personal. It also feels very much like a novel of two parts: the satire of celebrity culture and wannabe film stars in the first half, and then the story of falling in love, obsession and horror in the second half. Sometimes the two parts just don’t seem to mesh, although the author does drop heavy hints throughout that the story is not going to end well.

Aoyama is a moderately successful documentary film-maker, a widower approaching middle age, who lives in moderate contentment with his teenage son Shige. One day his son suggests he should remarry, and his streetwise, rather bullying friend Yoshikawa suggests they should organise an audition for wannabe actresses to star in a film they never intend to produce. Simply so that they can find the most beautiful and suitable wife for Aoyama. There was a lot I liked in this part of the book: some social commentary on the cult of celebrity, sharp satire about casting couches and a rather touching father/son relationship after the death of a loved one. But none of it was explored any further in the rush to get to the ‘exciting’ part.

MurakamicoverInitially reluctant to go along with this dubious venture, Aoyama finds himself hopelessly attracted to the letter of one of the applicants, the winsome Asami, who had to give up her dreams of becoming a ballerina due to an injury. The book then shifts gears and we are in the more familiar territory of shock and horror. Against the advice of his family and friends, Aoyama plunges into a love affair with the gorgeous young woman… who is, of course, not quite as sweet and wholesome as she seems. This second part of the book was great in its build-up but then reached the finale a bit too quickly for my taste. Or perhaps I prefer my horror to be implied rather than explicitly shown.

I have heard that the film version resolves some of these quibbles, and that Murakami himself (who is also a film-maker) thought the film version was almost an improvement on the book. Personally, I thought that Asami had no depth as a character. The childhood abuse motivation was almost sidelined and in many ways she was a typical product of male fantasy: the demure angel of the house who turns into a devil in bed. The manga-type cover of the edition I read only strengthened this perception.

In conclusion, I’d say for those who read Murakami Ryū for the shock factor (and he is a master at piling on the sex and gore) it will feel like there is not quite enough of it until the very end. Meanwhile, for those like me who prefer the rather downbeat social commentator, this book feels too lightweight.

I am linking this to Tony’s wonderful reading initiative January in Japan. For more (or better) Japanese reads, see what Tony and his other friends recommend.

 

This Is Called: Planning Ahead

TokyoLightsOr maybe it should be called Trying to Bring Some Order to the Madness. With all of these inspiring end of year book lists, I just keep adding and adding to my TBR pile. More frighteningly, I keep adding to my purchases for both the physical and the virtual bookshelves, which will make next year’s challenge of reading them all soooo much harder.

Still, I am trying to combine the 3 main challenges I have set myself: I am buying or have already bought lots of German and Japanese books. So here are some of the delights currently waiting patiently for me or flying on wings of Christmas joy towards me:

Japanese Fiction

Keigo Higashino: The Devotion of Suspect X

Ryu Murakami: Audition

Natsuo Kirino: Grotesque

Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief

Fumiko Enchi: The Waiting Years

Minae Mizumura: A True Novel

TokyoLights4I miss those days when I would be able to read Japanese novels in the original. [Although always with a Kanji dictionary to hand. I remember our colleagues studying English, French, Italian or Spanish at university would laugh at us for having to use a dictionary to read even the shortest novel.] I now have to rely on translations and there are very few available, even of the classics. I miss my collection of Kawabata, Mishima, Dazai Osamu etc.  They are all safely boxed up in an attic in the Thames Valley. Maybe rereading them could be my challenge for 2016 or whenever we move back to the UK?

German Challenge

Stefan Zweig: Meisternovellen

Bernhard Schlink: Liebesfluchten

Irena Brezna: Die undankbare Fremde

Edda Ziegler: Verboten Verfemt Vertrieben

Richard Weihe: Sea of Ink

Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time

TokyoLights3I also have a few crime novels in the mix. I’ll be rereading Jakob Arjouni and hope to read his last novel ‘Brother Kemal’, published posthumously this year.  I also want to explore the writer Sebastian Fitzek, who writes breathtaking psychological thrillers, and is beginning to make a name for himself beyond the German-speaking world.

I would love to ask for more suggestions, but am afraid that I might succumb to temptation… The Calvinist spirit of self-denial does not enter my soul when it comes to books (or desserts).

Instead, I will ask if you have read any of the Japanese or German writers on my list and what you think of them. And, if you haven’t, maybe you want to join me in the challenge and we can discuss them together?

TokyoLights2Just to put you in the mood for Japan and its literature, I have included some pictures of the Christmas/New Year lights in Tokyo.