The simplicity of this elliptical novel’s form and expression belies its emotional depth.
There’s almost an artistic sleight of hand in the latest from Yoshimoto (Hardboiled & Hard Luck, 2005, etc.), a novel in which nothing much seems to happen yet everything changes. Its narrator is a young Japanese woman, a graphic artist and muralist, on the cusp of 30 but still a relative innocent. She finds herself at a turning point, mourning the recent death of her mother, a death that spurs the daughter to uproot herself from her hometown and pursue her career amid the depersonalized anonymity of Tokyo. She takes an apartment, which offers a view of another apartment where a young man her age lives. “I had a habit of standing at my window, looking out, and so did Nakajima, so we noticed each other, and before long we started exchanging nods,” she explains in the matter-of-fact prose that marks the narrative style. Nods lead to more expansive forms of voiceless communication, which leads the two to meet, which leads to love. Or something. “It was so gorgeous it almost felt like sadness,” she writes of her feeling for the man she discovers is a haunted, frail medical student. “Like the feeling you get when you realize that, in the grand scheme of things, your time here on this earth really isn’t that long after all.” As the two bond over their dead mothers, she intuits that there are levels to his life and history that she can barely fathom. She gets a glimpse deeper into his soul when they make a pilgrimage to the lake of the title, to visit friends of his, a very mysterious brother and sister, whom she later suspects might not exist at all. The narrator and her lover bond in a way that isn’t necessarily sexual and not exactly spiritual, but more “as if we were clinging to each other, he and I, at the edge of a cliff.”
At one point the narrator feels like she is “inhabiting someone else’s dream,” which is the sort of effect the reader might experience as well.