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Book Review: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (Japan)

By Gwendolyn Dawson

The Lake, the latest novel by well-known Japanese novelist Banana Yoshimoto, is an enigmatic love story told from the first-person perspective of Chihiro, a muralist and “going on thirty” daughter of unmarried parents. Chihiro’s unconventional childhood and the recent death of her mother contribute to her sense of isolation and unrest, and she spends hours staring out of the window of her Tokyo apartment. Eventually she notices a man (Nakajima) across the street engaged in the same activity, and they forge a window-to-window relationship made up of shy glances, waves, and smiles. As the connection grows, the couple spends increasing amounts of time together in Chihiro’s apartment, and Chihiro learns Nakajima is haunted by a terrible past experience. Ultimately, Chihiro must decide whether to commit to a relationship with the mysterious and damaged Nakajima.

In her typically compact style, Yoshimoto creates a relationship of ever-increasing power with minimal words. The conversational casualness of the prose keeps the story rocketing along. While the overall effect is potent, the story is marred by too many clichés (“sleep like a log,” “bored me to death”). It’s difficult to know whether such imperfections arise out of the translation or from a conscious choice by Yoshimoto to give Chihiro a naïve and relatively uneducated voice, but, either way, the resulting prose is often uninspiring. Nevertheless, The Lake is a unique love story and a quick, entertaining read.

The Lake was translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich. It is published in the United states by Melville House.

Gwendolyn Dawson is the founder of Literary License.

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