Banana Yoshimoto’s Hardboiled and Hard Luck (1999)
Trans. from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich (2005)

This is the last of Banana Yoshimoto’s works that have been translated into English that I had to read; if it had been the first of her works that I’d read, I don’t think I’d have read any further, let alone read the gamut.

So let me continue by mentioning how much I loved Kitchen (published in 1988 in Japanese, published in 1993 in English).

I vividly remember the room in which I read it, the way in which the light came in the south window, smoky and weak.

I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t put it down. I read straight through both novellas (the other in the same volume is “Moonlight Shadow”).

Her prose in those two novellas is both piercing and tender; the stories she told felt both fresh and achingly familiar. If you’ve read them, I think you’ll know what I mean. Kitchen-lovers are hard-smitten.

And, although I didn’t adore her other works with the same intensity, I read Amrita twice, and I loved Asleep, enjoyed Lizard and NP, and thought Goodbye Tsugumi provocative.

Sure, there were elements that felt familiar from book to book, but they didn’t feel same-y. (Or, else, I left enough time between them, which is quite possible, because I became hooked early and there was at least a year between each of the translations that followed).

The novellas in Hardboiled and Hard Luck repeat a lot of the qualities that made me fall in love with Kitchen: strong but sad and slightly damaged and faintly poetic heroines who either were once or are now in love, a thin veil between this world of the known with people in it and the world of the unknown with spirits in it, misunderstood apparitions, and haunting landscapes.

And, anyway, I don’t mind a bit of overlap. Her stories deal with love and loss: archetypal themes that can’t help but echo across the tellings.

And I never tire of her musings on the power of words and the importance of storytelling. Below are some bookish quotes from her earlier works.

From NP: “All of us are so strange – me included. I was a character in a book, and now I’ve come out of the book and am talking and walking …. At the same time, it seems like the real me has become part of the book.”

From Lizard: “They’re just words that only you and I can understand. You know, like words you only use with certain people, like with your wife, or an old girlfriend, or your dad, or a friend. You know what I mean, a special type of language that only you and they can comprehend.”

And, from Amrita: “Novels are alive. They live on the other side of our lives, influencing us like good friends. I learned this from my own body. It might be for only a couple of hours, maybe an entire night, but we still have a chance to go across to their side of reality. I’m telling the truth.”

So, yes, tell it to me again and I won’t mind. And I don’t mind, really.

The young woman in Hardboiled is struggling with a half-remembered death-anniversary. The young woman in Hard Luck is struggling with the final loss of her long-brain-damaged-and-comatose sister. Their struggles feel like very familiar territory.

“Listen, I understand what you’re saying. This is a strange day. The sort of day when people in the old days talked about seeing sneaky creatures like mujina. Somehow the air feels heavy, and the night is darker than usual. But you know what? It will pass. Even nights like this come to an end.”

Maybe it’s not that this duo is all that bad; maybe Kitchen was just that amazing.

Have you read this author? This work?

PS This is my first official read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 4.