Saturday, 22 December 2018

Book review: Picnic in the Storm, Yukiko Motoya (2018)

This collection of short stories, which has been released in the US as ‘The Lonesome Bodybuilder’, is by an author who has won numerous prizes in Japan but I couldn’t see how that had honestly occurred. I was bored when I got most of the way through a story in the collection titled ‘An Exotic Marriage’. That was at about the 61-percent mark in the book. The story was long and meandering and didn’t appear to have any specific core idea to keep everything together. Eventually, it just lost all the impact it might have had and I gave up with it.

The shorter stories were better and I managed to read a few of these but I still didn’t see the appeal to the prize judges who have in the past read Motoya’s books with such evident pleasure. (There might seem to be something perverse about a Japanese person who aspires to gain critical acclaim, but all authors will, and do.)

There is here none of the intensity that you get with the poetic vision of Murakami although there are some supernatural elements in action in these stories. I felt reading this book something similar to what I had felt reading the work of Yoko Tawada, another Japanese female author, who is a novelist. In both cases there is a lack of strength in the conception of the ideas behind the work and a looseness in the structural framing of the narrative.

The subject matter of these stories is modern suburban Japan and there are attempts to fashion a sense of magic out of the mundane events that characterise most people’s lives in that country, but the execution fell far short of the promise offered by the acclaim the writer has earned in her native Japan. 

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