‘Record of a Night Too Brief’ by Hiromi Kawakami ***

Kawakami Hiromi has been one of the authors I meant to read more of this year (I had only read her short story 「神様2011年」 (translated in English as “God Bless You, 2011”) for my Modern Japanese Literature course in my Master’s degree last semester), so seeing this story collection published by Pushkin Press (one of my favourite publishers) I just had to get my hands on it. 9781782272717

This book consists of three separate stories (they’re not actually short at all, so I’ll just call them stories). The first one, “Record of a Night Too Brief”, which gives the entire collection its name as well, is a truly peculiar one and probably my least favourite of the three. It is divided in 19 smaller parts, each one describing a different, utterly peculiar situation. Each of those snipets has a very strange, dream-like quality.

“The girl was already showing signs of no longer being a girl. In a short span of time, her skin had become like paper, her eyes transparent. The ends of her arms and legs had begun to divide into branches; her hair had fallen out.”

The format of this story, being divided into separate sections or dreams, is very reminiscent of Natsume Sōseki’s “Ten Nights of Dream” which follows the exact same pattern. The snipets describe utterly absurd situations which can also be characterised as fantastic,

“No matter how much I poured into the cup, it never filled. And then I realized that the liquid I assumed to be coffee had, unbeknownst to me, turned into night.”

but they resemble more nightmares rather than mere dreams, since their endings are often unpleasant.

The second story, “Missing”, is also rather strange and has many fantastic elements throughout. In it, some people disappear (perhaps a metaphor for death) physically but their spiritual form may linger around their past surroundings. The protagonist’s older brother disappeared like that one day but his presence in the house was very quickly replaced by the second brother. This story is filled with Japanese folkloric elements, such as lingering spirits, talking utensils, as well as beliefs like every family needing to consist of five people exactly (I’m not sure whether that actually was a true belief in Japan), which add more to the absurd atmosphere of the story.

“A Snake Stepped On” is the third and final story of the collection and my personal favourite out of all three. Japanese folkloric beliefs and the fantastic are also widely present here as well, as certain snakes are transformed into women and impose themseves on the houses of the people who accidentally step on them, trying to lure them in the snake world (perhaps another allusion to death). This story held my interest for much longer than the previous two and I found it much more intriguing. Interestingly enough, this story is the one which gives the title to the Japanese version of this collection, as it is the one which won the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize in 1996. I’m not sure why the editors decided to change the title in the English version, especially since, in my opinion, the snake story is of higher quality than the rest.

Overall, this collection is very nicely put together, since there are certain themes which can be traced in all them. However, I wouldn’t suggest a newcomer to the fictional realm of Kawakami Hiromi to start with this collection, since the absurdity of those stories (especially of the title one) and Kawakami’s quirky style of writing might scare them away if they are not very accustomed to it.

This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley.

4 thoughts on “‘Record of a Night Too Brief’ by Hiromi Kawakami ***

  1. I’m so glad to read your thoughts on this book! I picked it up at the start of the year, and only got a few pages into the first story before putting it down. It’s so strange and surreal that it took me a little by surprise, and so different to tone of Strange Weather in Tokyo which I had previously read (although I’ve also read the short story you mention in the beginning, in an anthology a long time ago). But I’m happy to see the other stories might have more themes I enjoy so that it might be worth picking this book up again! The last stories play with snakes especially reminded me of ‘The Setting Sun’ by Dazai, which I read in the beginning of the year and loved.

    • You should definitely give the other stories a second chance, Natalie! I also felt like giving this book up at first, as I thought all of it would continue in the peculiar manner of the first story, but luckily I got rewarded for my patience. Let me know if you end up picking it up again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the other stories 🙂 Oh, I haven’t read ‘The Setting Sun’ just yet, but I do love Dazai’s writing so I may read it soon to see those affinities between the stories as well 😉

      • I certainly will! The Setting Sun is also sort of divided into three parts (although it’s a novel rather than ‘short’ stories). But in the first part especially snakes are very present, both figuratively and physically. I’m so overdue reading more of Dazai! I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts if/when you get to The Setting Sun – it’s a bit of a strange one, in the best ways.

  2. Pingback: ‘Ms Ice Sandwich’ by Mieko Kawakami **** | theliterarysisters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s