Banana Yoshimoto | Three Reviews

Goodbye Tsugumi

I’m glad I read this, coincidentally, as summer was ending and turning into autumn, as the whole book seems to be about the finite nature of summer. Endings, time. I love the way Yoshimoto describes situations you could never articulate yourself. I think she is a master of plucking vague feelings and atmospheres and weaving them into narratives so the reader has that moment of empathy or nostalgia with the characters.

This book is really calming to read. The setting is insular and the characters each sprout in radically different ways from each other which sets up great dialogue.

Really I would give this 4.5 stars, it’s another Yoshimoto favourite, almost on par with Kitchen.

Read September 2015.

Asleep

I think Banana Yoshimoto’s writing is like a pool; light and peaceful on the surface but deep and dark and full underneath. This is the third book I have read by her, having read Kitchen and N.P. It seems a step away from the lightness of Kitchen and more similar to the tale juxtaposed with it: Moonlight Shadow. Yoshimoto conveys the infinite sadness and isolation of existing in the world superbly; the bleakness of depression resonates fully in her writing. I think her prose is simple and beautiful. She transports you to a world in-between – where you are awake when everyone else is dead to the world, the feeling of the night.

Love Song plays with the idea of relationship dynamics. I thought the chemistry and analysis of the two women as rivals (and latently friends) was really interesting. Strange relationships are always great reads. The last story, Asleep is quite similar to some Murakami stories (Haruki, that is, not Ryu!) There is an underlying supernatural element amongst the hazy realism. Yoshimoto conveys the feeling of lost time and fatigue brilliantly. The way the narrative switches back to the narrator’s memories of Shiori – it is like being inside her head. Death and life and the relationships that permeate both of these spheres are touched upon in a peaceful manner. This book will stay with you after you have read it.

Read February 2015.

Kitchen

One of the most beautiful and sad and uplifting things I have ever read. Wow. I welled up at Moonlight Shadow, it conveyed grief and depression so well.

Read June 2014.

Advertisements

The Summer Book | Review

(A review I wrote in September 2015)

the_summer_book

Tove Jansson is mainly known for being the creator of the Moomin series, but as well as writing and illustrating children’s fiction and comics, she also wrote fiction for adults. The two of her novels that I have now read – The Summer Book and The True Deceiver – have both proved to be brilliant self-contained books, with less whimsy and more of the pronounced philosophical edge that Moomin only touches on.

I really didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, or as much as other Tove Jansson I’ve read. But I did! It was very beautiful and funny and really enveloped me in the little world on the island, which is what good books should do. I think The Summer Book gives the same sort of escapism as the Moomin books (so I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these); the isolation from the rest of society and the self-sufficiency that is somehow whimsical…but this book has more of a realism to it, of course.

I especially liked the chapter about the cats. Describing the animal’s personalities and Sophia’s frustrations with them was really funny and I related to it lots. I think Jansson is great at characterisation; the bluntness of Grandmother and the fleeting dramatic crises of Sophia are so real and I love how the characters bounce off each other. She is brilliant at writing the complexities of relationships.

The setting and it’s description is beautiful…there is something about islands that I will always be interested in. Jansson keeps up the description of the weather and wind constantly, but it is not boring; it seems important to the story, maybe because the characters’ lives are so entwined with the surrounding area and nature. The chapter with the storm was definitely the climax of the book, so atmospheric…

It is another book I have read recently describing summer, and it coming to an end (having recently finished Goodbye Tsugumi.) The ending seemed poignant and sad though it doesn’t have to be. Packing things up, anxiously trying not to forget anything, being prepared. But for what? She stays outside and watches the sea… I think the ending was beautiful and melancholy but maybe hopeful. It’s that strange kind of poignancy where you can’t tell whether it’s sad or not. I get that feeling when I go to the beach. Like time is running out and I must appreciate everything in that moment..and the enormity of everything in comparison to you and your life. Maybe The Summer Book is about time and endings as much as life.

The Kelpie’s Pearls | Review

I found The Kelpie’s Pearls at my grandparents’ house, and what a find. I’m drawn to any story with witches, and I love English and Scottish folklore, so after reading the blurb I started immediately.

All the way through reading this book I thought about how it would make a fantastic Studio Ghibli film. Just the right length and simplicity of narrative, and the imagery of Scottish highlands, burns and moors would be rendered really beautifully. Maybe I thought of that because the main character, Morag, reminds me of Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle – both the book and the film! She is plucky and doesn’t care what people think, and is committed to her own way of living. (I love no-nonsense old ladies who dabble in witchcraft!) I also enjoyed the cameo of the Loch Ness monster, that was a nice touch.

027- howls.jpg1
Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

The story is lovely but so is the detail; the kelpie’s pool next to the little house on the hillside, and the way she has tea and scones with ‘royal crowdie’, and the bus; it’s all really nice simplistic rural imagery. The occasional illustrations by Charles Keeping in the 1973 edition I read are beautiful.

I wish I’d read this as a child but to be honest I really enjoyed it as an adult; it’s not a babyish book at all. Anyone who’s a fan of stories about folklore or witchcraft would enjoy this.

As an end note — and spoiler alert — was Morag riding away on the kelpie at the end and ‘leaving this world’ a metaphor for death or even suicide? Her note to Torquil reads this way…I guess if it is, it’s a beautiful metaphor, but sad if she chose to leave because of the unwanted attention from her neighbours.

Read December 2015.