Following The Nakano Thrift Shop, Hiromi Kawakami’s breakout success, comes a new novel full of charm, subtlety, and style by an author whose readership in Japan numbers in the millions.
Each woman in this book has succumbed, even if only for an hour, to that seductive, imprudent, and furtively feline man who managed to glide so naturally into their lives. But who really was Mr. Nishino?
Still clinging to the vivid memory of his warm breath, his indecipherable silences, and his nonchalance, ten women who have loved him tell their stories as they attempt to recreate the image of the unfathomable and seemingly unattainable Mr. Nishino. Through accounts that are full of humor, intelligence, and the bittersweet joys of love, these women evoke Nishino’s image but reveal themselves. Each perspective is both captivating and sensual, droll but important, and each is a variation on themes of love and identity.
While I was reading through this novel, which is sort of an interconnection of stories told by the lovers of Yukihiko Nishino, some of them only meeting him for an hour, others having a relationship with him, all of them telling their perceptions of the things that he gave them. The stories are almost chronological, and as I was reading, I started to wonder what it was about Nishino that draws him into being a compelling character. He does not have more lovers than the average adult Japanese male, and even though he has these relationships, work still takes up most of him time (in most cases). So it comes down the facts that Nishino is a mystery to the reader just like he is a mystery to the women.
Nishino goes through his life, meeting and sleeping with women, and even though he gets older, his modus operandi does not change; he feels like he cannot love women, and then when they are about the end things, he proposes marriage to several of them. There are few variations on the theme, and this might be his true self coming through, that when he is with someone he does not want to commit, until it is almost over, but the truth is deeper than that, that there is not a fear loneliness or loss that makes him cling onto these lovers. The fact is once the marriage proposals are turned down or seen as bluffs, he leaves and they never see him again. It is as if Nishino does not tell anyone the truth, but tells the same lie.
The chapters and stories are not too long, and the translation makes this feel conversational and casual, which also makes for an easier read. I had not read Hiromi Kawakami’s previous work, but this is a very good introduction and testament to her work. I look forward to reading more.
I received this as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.