This week at Necessary Fiction I reviewed Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase, which was published last spring by Counterpoint Press. I had a lot of fun reading and writing about this book, not only because it fits so well into my current Japanese literature reading project, but also because it brought me to think about the way that different cultures handle narrative perspective. Especially first-person narrative – which is the perspective for which readers are asked for the greatest suspension of disbelief. I find that with first person the framework of fiction seems the most false – who is this person and why is this person writing this all down?
And I think that different cultures have different tolerances for how the first-person is handled—all based on literary tradition and current publishing trends. I only touch on this briefly in the review, but I think there is a greater discussion lurking around this idea.
But without further ado, here is a little of what I had to say about The Briefcase:
On the surface this a book about a woman in her late thirties and a man in his seventies and the strange romance in which they find themselves engaged. That word romance is a little misleading, because what happens between Tsukiko and Sensei is far more serious than what that simple word might lead one to believe. The Briefcase is less a study of an unconventional relationship and more a query of what happens when two resolutely lonely individuals find that when they are together their loneliness is eased.
Contemporary Japanese fiction is fascinated with loneliness and what loneliness does to the psyche, how it manifests both publicly and privately. In this sense, The Briefcase is a part of a larger genre of fiction. Kawakami, however, while not shying away from the darker aspects of loneliness, refrains from making her characters marginal. Both Tsukiko and Sensei are functional, polite, and to some extent even social beings, and aside from rather impressive drinking abilities, their emotional isolation is nearly undetectable.
You can read the rest of the review here.
If you’ve never heard of Kawakami and are interested, there are a few examples of her writing to be found around the web:
The story “Mogera Wogura” from the Spring 2005 issue of The Paris Review. This story is just amazing – I can’t stop reading it.
The story “Record of a Night Too Brief” from the July 2012 issue of Words Without Borders.
“The Moon and the Batteries” from Granta. This is the first chapter of The Briefcase.