Monday, 26 October 2009

Strangers by Taichi Yamada

Hideo Harada is recently divorced, never sees his son, and his TV script writing partner is avoiding him. He is retreating from the world and living in a building that although located in a busy part of Tokyo, is almost deserted, apart from the other inhabitant, a mysterious young woman.

Buying his own birthday present on his 48th birthday (after his writing partner breaks the news that he wants to marry Harada’s ex wife) he convinces himself he has a new independence, and with little else to do decides to travel on the Ginza subway to visit Asukusa, the part of Tokyo where he grew up. His last childhood memory of the area was the blood stained pavement where his parents were killed in a hit and run accident.

Visiting the area temple and then wandering down various streets eventually leads to visiting the Variety Hall where he meets a man, who looks exactly like his father, and is invited back to this familiar faced strangers home where there is a woman waiting who resembles his dead mother.

We are not sure at the beginning of the novel if Harada’s parents’ appearance is just wish fulfilment, ghosts or he is having a mental breakdown. The couple look the same, are at the same age as at their deaths but live with modern possessions. Harada finds emotions to be troublesome so always tries to separate himself from them. Losing his parents at the age of 12 and then his grandfather not long after has given him certain emotional scars.

The first chapters of the book are very slow but as Harada returns to visit his parents the story gathers pace; his emotions vary between terror and yearning when taking the train to Asukusa to visit the couple. He forms an attachment with Kei, the young woman in his apartment building, but she has her own secret.

I would classify this book as a novella and rather like a MR James short ghost story when everyday events, only seem slightly strange at first, gain momentum and turn into something more chilling. Can the dead harm the living? Maybe like the eel meals that are consumed ,the truth is more slippery than that. Enjoyable as a quick read.

(Participating in Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 3)


Bellezza said...

Ooh, it sounds like the perfect 'ghost' story for October. I hope there's resolution about his parents, though. I don't like being left hanging in the wind. ;)

Joy said...

No Bellazza read with a calm mind, not like those Japanese films when the ghosts pounce on you out of the long grass. I rather liked the resolution, bitter sweet with a teeny touch of evil.

(I'm not giving anything away having been traumatised recently while starting to read The Secret River and then hearing an interview with Kate Grenville which told most of the plot, including the ending -Nooooo)

mel u said...

I liked Strangers. I thought in the end it was about the power of the dead over the living-an entertaining book-thanks for this ver good post