I’m a sucker for bookshops, I struggle to leave one without buying something – so much so that I now try to avoid even going inside one if I can help it. A few years ago, before I became so disciplined, I was browsing randomly through a London bookshop when I happened upon a table stacked high with all manner of books. They were part of a three-for-two or buy-one-get-one-free or some other offer I couldn’t resist so I started digging through the piles of books, looking for something that might pique my interest. Nestled among the thrillers and crime novels were a handful of strange little books by a Japanese author called Banana Yoshimoto.
Apart from the name, the books stood out because they were very simply designed – mostly a solid colour, pink or yellow or maroon, with a single Japanese character on the front. They were also quite expensive for such small books. I’ve got a soft spot for Japanese literature so I took advantage of the offer to pick up a handful of these strange little books, along with a couple by Haruki Murakami that were in the same sale. When I read them, I was immediately hooked (on both authors) and I’ve been snapping up anything the two of them produce ever since.
I read Banana Yoshimoto’s latest, The Lake, yesterday. It’s a short novel, just under 190 pages and there’s plenty of border to each page as well, so if you measure the worth of your literature by quantity rather than quality, this isn’t the book for you. But if that’s the case, you’ll be missing out on some great literature.
The book tells the story of a young artist, Chihiro and her slowly developing romance with Nakajima, a strange but intelligent young man with a traumatic past. Like many of Banana Yoshimoto’s books, The Lake is haunting in its simplicity and although the cast of characters is small, they’re quirky and memorable. Yoshimoto’s prose has a sparse, lyrical precision that I find irresistible and I was hooked from the first page. So hooked in fact that I ended up reading the whole book in a single sitting – a perfect way to spend Christmas afternoon.