Monday, February 13, 2012

Tokyo versus Mississippi: 2 falls out of 3

So far it's only round one of this contest but Faulkner is seriously putting the hurt on Yoshimoto. Banana may be carried out of the ring on a stretcher.

What in God's name am I talking about? Last week I read Banana Yoshimoto's novella Kitchen because I've encountered little snippets here and there and my pal Davin Malasarn admires the book so it seemed high time I finally read it. This week I'm reading William Faulkner's Sanctuary for the first time. Before the Yoshimoto I read Vladimir Nabokov's novel Invitation to a Beheading. Got all that?

Perhaps reading Kitchen between books by Nabokov and Faulkner was unfair, because the latter writers are amazing prose stylists and Banana is--at least in this translation--a writer of fairly flat, style-free sentences. When the writing takes aim at being imaginative it usually fails, stumbling into cliche or silliness. Nabokov and Faulkner, on the other hand, had rich control over their prose and forged new trails through language. Tonight, maybe, I'll do a compare-and-contrast.

I'm not sure if I'm writing this to express my disappointment in Kitchen, which I really wanted to like but didn't (it's only 150 pages long but it seemed to drag forever and say nothing except hey, you know, stop grieving and get on with things; it also reads like a college student's journal, with self-conscious "profundities" that are really commonplaces), or to express my surprise and delight about Sanctuary which, at only 30-odd pages in, is already deep and layered and beautiful and grotesque and alive in a way the Yoshimoto never managed. Again, I see no reason to compare the books but I end up doing it anyway.

This was supposed to be the year where I read nothing but Chekhov, Nabokov and Shakespeare, but there are just too many other delicacies lying about. Will my next read be Volume 6 of Tales of Chekhov, or will it be something by Camus? I'll know when I get there.

Also, Chapter 8 of the work-in-progress is now underway. It will be a busy chapter, I think. It threatens to be very talky, but I'm battling that threat. I hope I remember that I want to do something with contrasts between being enclosed in dark places and being out in the open under a tremendous sky. Possibly a trip in an aeroplane is neccessary. Possibly.

19 comments:

  1. Aww, sad that you didn't like Kitchen I quite enjoyed it! I don't think it helped that you read it sandwiched between two completely different things, but who knows. I read it right after reading some Lahiri, and to me it felt refreshing in the prose department. Not my favorite type of writing, but refreshing. Anyway, where would the fun be if we all loved the same exact thing? :)

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  2. I really wanted to like it, but it was just clumsy and not very good. And the stories themselves seemed pointless and juvenile. I have no idea how it got published or why it's so popular.

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  3. That makes me smile and I have no idea why. :)

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  4. Because it's just further proof that I'm out of touch with your Earth culture? When the Overlords land their ships on your bright Terran shores, you will only read books of which we approve!

    Or something.

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  5. You haven't caught Bananamania! It's out there! I've had a strange relationship with her because I find her stories quite addicting and I never know why. Personally, I think she is a master prose stylist--although I know it's impossible to judge based on a translation. Her work is simple and silly. It's light and, for me, refreshing. I've read an interview with her where she said her goal with each book was to make her writing even more accessible. She's not trying to forge new trails. Personally, I think she's trying to give her readers a nice little quilt to wrap around your shoulders on a gloomy day.

    I really appreciate you reading it!

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  6. I can see how she's trying to be like comfort food. But honestly, so much of it was so clumsy that it was actually hard to concentrate on it and it began to piss me off. The last section was the best (the "moonlight shadow" story that was, I see, written before the "kitchen" section). Maybe the translator wasn't very good (there were stupid grammar and usage errors and a lot of sentences that were just unclear and meaningless the way they were structured). So I really didn't enjoy it. If her other fiction has a different translator, I might have a look at it.

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  7. Maybe it's the translator, but I tend to doubt it.

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  8. I loved Kitchen when I was in my mid-twenties and obsessed with M.F.K. Fisher and food writing. It spoke to me about a certain isolation and sadness that young women have, without being about shoes or some other silliness. I re-read it after seeing this and it didn't hold up at all. It wasn’t anything more than pleasant. Ah, well.

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  9. I read "Kitchen" several years ago, in the Japanese literature phase of my life (after discovering Haruki Murakami), which perhaps means I should have liked it, but I didn't. Agree with you, it's clumsy, silly, in my opinion even rather pointless.
    [Note: I no longer like Murakami anyway. Decided that I had enough of Murakami around 2012 or 2011. Just saying.]

    1 of your 'invisible' followers.

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    1. I have 4 Murikami books at home. I've read two of them. I have serious doubts I'll ever read the other two. I still like Kawabata and Yukio Mishima. But Ms Banana seems just frivolous to me. I'm not anti-frivolity, but I can get that elsewhere than in novels, I guess.

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    2. Which ones were they? The Murakami books you've read, I mean.

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  10. Sputnik Sweetheart and Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. On the shelf I have South of the Border, West of the Sun (I think; it might be the Hard-Boiled Wonderland if that's a real title) and Kafka on the Shore. I think Murakami is trying hard to be Kafka but not making it. My friend Davin, who reads a lot of Murakami, has the theory that Murakami's art is to primarily show how things are actually more disconnected than connected, how the world is made up of vast swaths of unknowable experience, which is why his tales don't add up, don't point to any closely-connected group of ideas within the narrative. Maybe that's correct. Certainly the Japanese literature I've read and enjoyed has been pretty subtle and almost immobile actually, compared to Western literary ideas about storytelling. But there was almost nothing in Murakami that made me want to keep reading (though individual chapters of Bird Chronicles is pretty good, so maybe I should try some of his short stories, but I'm not feeling any real hurry in that regard).

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    1. Ah, "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World". That's probably the last Murakami book I read.
      That theory might be correct. Personally I think one gets most out of his fiction in teenage years, at least I first read him when I was 14 or 15 and, at the time, was feeling lost, lonely, alienated, disorientated... blah blah blah. Or maybe after a while I can't stand his works any more because of a different reason- that I recognised in almost all of his works the same atmosphere, the same mood, the same kind of protagonist/ narrator (with the same characteristics, described over and over again: man, lonely, complicated relationships with women, cat lover, literature and music, no TV, etc.) And all of his characters speak the same way, even a guard, as I remember, philosophises.
      About those 2 novels, back then I preferred "Norwegian Wood". Now, I don't know. I think you're right, Murakami's trying hard to be Kafka but not making it.

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    2. I do think Murakami wrestles with the same images and characters. I kind of like that obsession. Animator Hayao Miyazaki often has repeated images in his films and I get a kick out of finding them in each new project.

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  11. I'm in the middle of rereading Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and I'm finding it interesting once again. His 1Q84 was not a fun read, and Yoshimoto's latest books were not good either, in my opinion. Kitchen still affects me in a good way. Personally, I see more similarities between Yoshimoto and Kawabata in terms of how they describe place and perhaps in their strangeness. Murakami feels different to me. I think he writes about connections, but the connections are less straight forward. I think in his worlds actions impact things in different dimensions, so it appears disconnected but is actually connected.

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    1. I guess the difference for me is that I can see what Kawabata and Mishima are doing--or at least I think I do--and I can't see what Murakami is doing. I don't mind his books being radically different from other things I've read (I like being surprised and taught new ideas about how novels can be built), but with Murakami there can be really good sections but they're separated by stretches that seem pointless to me, and often his characters make the most remarkably naive speeches that as a reader I'm supposed to take seriously and I find myself thinking that the people walking around in Murakami's books are just stupid and false. Not always, but too often. I like the Cinnamon character in "Chronicles," but if you cut him out of the book entirely, the book is really not much changed. I like the well in that book, too, but again, if you remove the well, I'm not sure what the book actually loses. It's like nothing in the books is actually necessary, if you see what I mean. Like I can understand Murakami's books by not actually reading them as well as much as I can by reading them. I don't know. He frustrates me, does Mr Murakami. I wish he didn't but I don't know how to align myself mentally in a way that will allow me to read his books.

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    2. Yeah, I can almost see that the man skinned alive in Manchuria is connected to the well and the disappearing cat and the fantastic hotel at the end with the spectral walls and ghosts (?) and all...but I have no idea how they are connected, or why I'm supposed to believe they're in any way connected. The mysterious woman (I forget her name) is the lynchpin to the whole thing, I think, but I never figured out how or why. It was just baffling.

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    3. Maybe it's because I'm constantly troubled over similar "connections" in real like that this work intrigues me. I don't understand life. The more I learn of science the more chaotic everything is. I can't hold any sort of model in my head that works with all of the moving pieces and neither can the characters in Murakami's world.

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    4. Davin, I don't discount Murakami because I trust you as a reader even if I can't see what he's up to as a writer. It's tempting to dismiss him because I don't understand his books, but I remember not thinking much of Chekhov the first time I read his stories, long ago. Now, of course, I think Chekhov is Saint Anton, the greatest writer in the world. So I try to be more patient with writers who baffle me. Murakami's books are frustrating for a guy like me because I want to find patterns, and his patterns often don't necessarily overlap, except in some conceptual way that's not apparent to me. So I find myself not knowing how to read his stories, and my helplessness irritates me with this Murakami guy. I console myself with the knowledge that I don't have to read his books. But that seems like a bad solution. So I don't know. But I bet I don't pick up Bird Chronicles again.

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