In a novel of female endurance and obligation, Mitsuki, the “semi-neglected daughter” of the Katsura family, must not only bear the lion’s share of caring for her elderly parents, but must also steel herself for the failure of her marriage.
“She won’t do us all a favor and die” is one of the many shameful but exquisitely truthful thoughts shared by the Katsura daughters, Mitsuki and Natsuki, about their mother, Noriko, in this understated anatomization of intense family feelings. Noriko, who not only favored Natsuki, but also treated the girls’ father with repellent callousness when his health began to fail, has grown into a self-indulgent, demanding old woman who hangs onto existence, dominating Mitsuki’s life in particular. Distinguished Japanese writer Mizumura (The Fall of Language in the Age of English, 2015, etc.) traces this agonizing phase, and all the generational circumstances and feelings prefiguring it, in the novel’s first half before moving on to a more contemplative second half set in a country hotel where Mitsuki has taken refuge both to recuperate from her mother’s eventual death and also, now, to confront her other preoccupation—her husband’s latest infidelity and the likelihood of divorce. An “homage to the dying tradition of serial novels” according to a note at the beginning of the book, it's narrated in brief, simple chapters, the tone even and mature as it delves into the unhappiest, most intractable corners of a middle-aged woman’s life and psyche. Questions about love, money, and female choices are posed amid contrasts with earlier generations of women and altered expectations following World War II. The novel has an unblinking focus which accumulates to near-claustrophobic proportions, yet the decisions finally made by Mitsuki arrive with a persuasive sense of late-life liberation.
A long, minute, subtle consideration of aging, loyalty, and the bonds of love grounded in the material details of Japanese culture but resonating far beyond.