Book Review: The Lake

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Things look different depending on your perspective. As I see it, fighting to bridge those gaps isn’t what really matters. The most important thing is to know them inside and out, as differences, and to understand why certain people are the way they are.

The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto

As I’ve mentioned countless times on this blog, I’m an avid fan of Haruki Murakami. Ever since I first opened up 1Q84 on a whim, his motifs (the jazz cafes, the ear fetishes, the gorgeous, mysterious women with limps) make me feel at home unlike any other author’s.

That being said, I don’t have much experience with other Japanese literature, or Japanese-American for that matter. I’d heard before that the reason Murakami is beloved by Westerners (or those raised in the Western world, like yours truly) is because his work is so Westernized and separate from the Japanese literary establishment to the point that it is more relatable to those outside Japan. Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea, but I was interested in reading more works by Japanese authors – especially with my inaugural trip to Japan later this month(!). I picked this book upon a whim, mainly due to the author’s name (which turned out to be a pseudonym) and the intriguing teaser on the back cover…

However, I highly recommend that if you are interested in this book that you do not read the back cover! The book revolves around Chihiro, a young artist who’s recently lost her mother, and her strange but sweet romance with Nakajima, her neighbor. If you’ve read Murakami, you know that his novels embrace an overarching, pervasive loneliness – similarly, Chihiro and Nakajima’s story is one of isolation, sometimes from each other, and mostly from the world around them. While Chihiro explains her own origins (and her reasons for her self-imposed isolation), the reason for Nakajima’s is uncertain…except for the fact that it’s given away on the back cover of the book! I honestly thought there would be another, more significant reveal, and was gravely disappointed. I can imagine that if I hadn’t read the cover, I would have been shocked by the final quarter of the book. I highly recommend you do not read any summaries or reviews if you’re interested in this book.

That being said, while I enjoyed the book, I didn’t find it remarkable in any capacity. It was a simple story told in simple prose, although I’m not sure whether to fault the translation for this. The novel is narrated in first-person by Chihiro, and the narration tends be straightforward about her emotions and motives. While that’s understandable due to it being first-person, I found her narration a tad boring, and it lessened the mystery of Nakajima’s origins. I also didn’t find the characters too realistic. Although the book delves into Chihiro’s emotions and personality, I couldn’t figure out what her personality was, other than being reluctant to open up to others. And despite being an artist (and therefore interested in art), she wasn’t an interesting enough character to keep me sufficiently engaged or sympathetic.

All in all, because it’s a short book (not even 200 pages), I think it would be worth your while for an afternoon or a day’s read. I didn’t dislike it, per se, but I doubt I’ll recall much about it a few months from now.

YES OR NO?: YES, I suppose, but I don’t feel too strongly one way or another about this book. There are a few subplots in the book other than Chihiro’s relationship with Nakajima: her relationship with her parents and extended family, her job of painting murals, and so on. However, none of these subplots contribute much in the end, and I would rather have read this condensed into some type of short story format. This book isn’t for everyone.