In this debut novel from Japanese writer Kawakami, a Tokyo woman coping with the mysterious loss of her husband finds herself suddenly drawn to a small fishing village.
Kei, the 40-something narrator of this dreamlike novel, has made a life for herself that appears solid, even as her thoughts show it is anything but. A writer, she shares an apartment with her mother and an increasingly distant teenage daughter named Momo. She is also in a long-term relationship with a married man, Seiji, who actually seems more into Kei than she into him. That could be because 12 years earlier Rei, the man she loved, vanished, leaving her and Momo alone. What role, if any, Kei had in his disappearance remains vague, as if Kei herself is unsure of it. Was it another woman? Foul play? Either way, she has on some level shut herself off emotionally. Feeling restless one day, however, she spontaneously gets on a train and ends up in Manazuru, a sleepy seaside burg. There she feels herself “followed” by spiritlike presences and not for the first time. One of these apparitions, a chatty woman, seems especially interested in Kei. Kei in turn wonders if this spirit can help her uncover whatever happened to Rei and maybe even contact him on the other side. Whether or not the spirit woman is real, or a part of Kei’s subconscious, remains a central question. Kei keeps going back, and her buried memories of Rei blend with disturbing and beautiful visions. And it soon becomes clear, as Kei is drawn deeper and deeper into this quest for closure, that she runs the risk of losing herself—as well as the people who care most for her. Subtly compelling, Kawakami’s novel interestingly blends whodunit, travelogue and a dash of tasteful eroticism.
Evocative, original exploration of grief—more of a journey than a destination, with plot almost beside the point.