Banana Yoshimoto's novels have established her as one of Japan's finest and most popular writers, and an acclaimed and best-selling literary star all over the world. Now she delivers three novellas that develop her , sophisticated, resonant, and artfully simple vision, in Asleep, a book that is already an international best-seller and may be her most charming since Kitchen.Amanda: Hi Kelly! Well I suppose I'll just start this thing by asking what your overall thoughts are on the whole book before we split into talking about individual stories.
Banana Yoshimoto has a nuanced and magical ability to animate the lives of her young characters, and here she spins the stories of three women, all bewitched into a spiritual sleep. One, mourning for a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by another woman whom she was once pitted against in a love triangle. Sly and mystical as a ghost story, with a touch of Kafkaesque surrealism, Asleep is an enchanting new book from one of the best writers of contemporary international fiction.
Kelly: Hi! I have to say that I wanted to love this book. There was just something about it that made me think I would, but then I finished it earlier today (Tuesday) and promptly the stories have left my head. I honestly will have to have the book close by to remember what happened, which is really bad! The third story probably stuck with me the best. There were aspects of the stories that I really enjoyed, but otherwise I probably will forget I have even read this book in the future. There was just nothing about it that was so amazing that it will stick with me forever. How about you?
Amanda: Well...let me just say, first, that I rescued this book from the throwaway pile at Half Price Books not long ago. I'd heard other people talking about Banana Yoshimoto in the past, but had never been interested in trying her books. I've not read a lot of Japanese literature. After reading The Housekeeper and the Professor, though, which I loved to pieces, I was really looking forward to trying more Japanese authors. This seemed short and quick, easy to read, and I'd heard it was simple and good. I wanted to like it. I expected to like it. But then I started reading, and was just bored. Sometimes almost offended by some of the things in the stories. By the end, I admit, I was skimming. I doubt I'll remember anything from these stories. I don't even remember anyone's names at this point, and I just read them.
I suppose we ought to break into sections for the individual stories? Or would you like to add anything else about the book in general?
Kelly: I have to be honest and admit that I saw you were going to be reading this book soon, so I added it to my library pile because I am in the Japanese reading challenge and am having a hard time finding books to read for it!
The first story is called 'Night and Night's Travelers'. I found this story a bit random. I think she was trying for some suspense by not telling everything right away, but I was just uninterested by it all. What did you think about it?
Amanda: Okay. Night and Night's Travelers. First let me say - since I'm not sure we have the same edition - that the back of my book was very misleading. What it said was that all three stories were about women who were bewitched into spiritual sleep. What it said about this story in particular was that a woman mourning for a lost lover starts sleepwalking. Maybe I just completely misunderstood the story, but I don't remember any sleepwalking at all! I mean, the narrator's cousin stays awake a lot at night, but she's not sleepwalking!
Because that was the first story in the book, it was the one I paid the most attention to. At this point, I still was assuming it was automatic that I'd like the book. I'm not sure why I just assumed that, but I did. It was a quick read, but in the end, I didn't feel like anything happened. The story didn't go anywhere, and I had no emotional response to it at all. And again, there was no betwitching, no "spiritual sleep," no "Kafkaesque surrealism" (which the back of the book also misleadingly said). I was disappointed. I wanted those things, especially the surrealism. I wonder if my disappointment was greater because of the misleading blurb? How about you? Did you have conflict with the back of your version?
Kelly: First I should say that I am weird and never read the back of the book. I was totally not sure what this book was about at all. I had heard of the author, so that was really all my criteria was for reading this book. I watched the first part of your response show up on my screen, though, so while you were typing I read my own back of the book. It says the exact same thing! So, yes, that is very misleading because if there was sleepwalking going on I entirely missed it. Unless it was a metaphor. Otherwise, that description makes no sense. So, I went into this book not really knowing what to expect and I was still disappointed.
Like you, since this was the first story in the book, I paid a lot of attention to what was going on. I knew we were going to be reviewing it, so I wanted it to be clear in my mind. Also, like you, I was less than enthused. I didn't feel like there was really anything going on and I couldn't sympathize with the characters at all. I just didn't care... It was just there and I read it and that is really all there is for me to say about it. It isn't even as if I can say I hated the story. I just didn't care enough to like it or hate it.
Amanda: I know what you mean. I didn't hate it either. I just didn't care. Which is strange, because many of the characters in it ought to have been interesting. I skimmed back through for their names - I'm bad with Japanese names, plus the characters just didn't stand out for me - and really, Mari, Yoshihiro, and Sarah were all interesting characters. Or they could have been. The problem, I think, was Shibami - the narrator. She was completely uninteresting, and since this was all told from her point of view, the other characters just kind of died out. For me, at least. I wonder if maybe this had been told from Mari or Sarah's point of view, would it have been more interesting? Maybe. I don't know. But as it was, it's already fading from my mind.
However - if it's okay to move on to the second story, "Love Songs," - I didn't find "Night and Night's Travelers" offensive. It was just there. "Love Songs," on the other hand, was plain awful to me. What did you think?
Head on over to The Zen Leaf to see the second half of the review!