The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (thoughts)
I know! Y’all have seen with way too many reviews of this novel lately! But I’ve read several of Yoshimoto’s books now and loved/really liked all of them, so when I saw it on Netgalley I couldn’t resist. I shall try to keep this brief. First of all, it isn’t a thriller or a ‘dark mystery’. Not that I was really expecting one, since I’m already acquainted with Yoshimoto’s style, but the marketing campaign had me a bit curious. Also, I didn’t love it as much as Kitchen or Hardboiled & Hard Luck (my two favourites of hers so far and where I’d recommend a newbie start). But I was still deeply satisfied, and I’m happy to have read it.
It has the same bones as all of the Yoshimoto stories I’ve experienced: there is a boy and a girl, both of whom are (more than) slightly ‘odd,’ a bit out of sync with general society. And they have an unusual relationship, which is portrayed with lots of introspection and delicate, quiet moments. I happen to adore this: Yoshimoto is brilliant at exposing our most tender points in a fundamentally kind way. I think we all have that weird part to ourselves, the part that feels like maybe we’re all alone, the part we tend to hide when we’re just going about our daily lives. And Yoshimoto reminds us that actually everyone’s internal life is a bit skewed, and that when two people happen to be skewed in matching ways, it’s magic. She shows us love that has a fairy-tale feel only in its complete acceptance of the other person, and she does it in a way that fills us, or at least me, with hope. The blend of concrete, little details with an overarching human story makes for magical storytelling, and Yoshimoto has that down. I remember every single one of her characters that I’ve encountered, and Chihiro and Nakajima are no exception. Reading this, I could relax: I knew I was in the hands of a wonderful writer who would leave me thoughtful and hopeful. And that’s exactly what happened.
If you love character-driven stories, or well-constructed novellas, or are curious about the feminine side of Japanese writing, you really should track down Yoshimoto. And if you buy The Lake, part of the profits are going to the Japanese Disaster Relief Fund. As for me, I’m off to put another of her backlisted titles on hold at the library.
Suggested Companion Reads
- Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni (Another Japanese author with a similar approach.)
- The Watermelon King by Daniel Wallace (This has a fairy-tale feel to is and a plot also revolving around past secrets. My review isn’t very long but I did gush about another of his books: Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician)
- A Year in Japan by Kate Williamson (If you want to stay in Japan, this is a marvelous travelogue by a Canadian artist.)