Saturday, July 20, 2002

Title: Crawling At Night
Author: Nani Power
Publisher: Vintage

The words sordid and tawdry come to mind to describe the lives of the characters in Crawling At Night. A story that takes place over the period of a couple of days, yet manages to cover the entire lives of everyone involved. And it is fair to say that no one here seems to have had a good life.

Ito is the head chef in a sushi restaurant in New York; there he is attracted to one of the waitresses. He spots her drinking on the job, he decides this is bad, that he should give her a warning. But at the same time he feels that it wouldn't do any harm to ask her to dinner. She decides that she will meet him for dinner, but falls asleep in the bath and doesn't make it. The next day Marianne is cagey not sure how Ito will react, while Ito is hurt and confused. However that same day Marianne is fired by the restaurant owner. At the end of his working day Ito gets Marianne's address from the owner's records and goes out to find her. The rest of the story unfolding as they meet up and start to understand who each of them is.

Ito is a sushi chef, highly trained, like any of the other Japanese arts. With the death of his wife though this aging man finds himself in America, working for a younger man who maybe of Japanese descent but is more American than Japanese. For Ito the Americans don't understand sushi, the ritual and honour involved, rather it is novelty and instead of using nothing but the best he is encouraged to use only the cheapest. For years his relationship with his wife wasn't physical, so he used a woman at the local brothel, a woman he fell in love with. Now in America he has been stalking a woman he believes to be this same woman, tortured by his loneliness in this new country.

Marianne is an alcoholic, the daughter of an alcoholic. At the age of 16 she ran away, got herself married and pregnant and was an alcoholic before she was even 18. Her baby was taken off her and she ended up with another man in New York. Since then it has been a string of men and drinking, a consumption by her demons. The job in the restaurant is her third this year, and she has just been raped by the owner. Not sure what to do she carries on as though nothing has happened, though she is confused further by Ito's advances, especially when the owner fires her, increasingly worried that she will do something about what he did.

Crawling At Night follows the lives of these two characters, but in the process covers the lives of the people they meet - from the taxi driver to the girl that Ito is stalking. People who are mostly immigrants, people who are mostly chasing dreams that remain unattainable. A cast of the poor, a mother who works several jobs to raise her mentally handicapped son, a father who sells his daughter's body for a little extra money. Despite the grimness of the story the narrative seems to be presented with a certain upbeat feel, the balance between things that are going on now and the past allowing for a strong flow from start to finish.

With talk of what goes on behind the closed doors of restaurants and late night clubs in china town and a sushi chef in love with a waitress I had certain expectations as to what Crawling At Night was going to be about. While all those aspects are contained within the book, they aren't as I expected. Yet on the whole I found this to be an enjoyable read.

July 2002

Title: Dance Dance Dance
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Harvill Panther

I've picked this up a few times, the modern design work and the fact that the translation is recent threw me. Apparently this guy is really popular in Japan, but for some reason it has still taken years for his work to be translated - so this was written in 88 and published in English about 10 years later. The fact that it is then set in 1983 threw me even more. But other than the music references the work remains considerably contemporary I believe, especially with the main characters rants about corporate domination of markets, seems very now....

Dance Dance Dance is a bit of an odd book, though maybe not as odd as the back of the book might suggest? Anyway, the main character, who is unnamed, visited the dolphin hotel with a girlfriend four years ago. Though they had been going out for a couple of months he never knew her name, and while staying in this hotel she just left him and he hasn't seen her since. But for some time now the hotel has been visiting him in his dreams and he feels compelled to go back - with the feeling that if he doesn't he will never resolve his issues being a strong one. However, when he turns up the grubby, little hotel that was there, it has been replaced by a massive, luxury hotel. In his attempts to discover what happened to the old hotel and solve his mysteries he befriends one of the girls behind the front desk - who has had a strange experience. It seems that this architectural, monolith is haunted by the old hotel, the girl having experienced this in a distressing fashion. Things aren't going to plan, and while killing time in this city he goes to see a film, one which stars a man he went to school with. Much to his shock there is a scene with his school friend and the woman who led him to the original Dolphin hotel.

With this he heads back to Tokyo, but is asked to escort a 13 year old girl back as well by the hotel girl he knows. As he befriends the young girl it seems that she has some form of psychic power, that adds to the mystery and his own strange experiences in the hotel. Back in Tokyo he manages to get back in touch with his old school friend who is now famous, and learn more about the woman that he is looking for.

On the whole Dance Dance Dance is about how the character interacts with the other characters, the bigger picture being of less real importance, more of a driving tool than the core. Yuki is the daughter of a famous photographer and writer, her parents are divorced and her mother is always leaving her. Because of her psychic senses she has been marked out at school and doesn't fit in, so spends most of her time alone listening to pop music. While she is difficult and awkward to some degree the fact that the main character is willing to give her time and pay her attention is a big deal for her. In some ways there is a sense of the Lolita to this relationship, though in reality the guys intentions are honourable. Gotanda has always been handsome, popular and intelligent, he could have been anything, but fell in to acting. He has become famous, but is stuck in a rut of playing nice guys, always a teacher or doctor or dentist - nothing challenging, nothing interesting. His wife has left him and taken all his money, leaving him in crushing debt, yet the studios demand he lives a certain lifestyle so they fund a life of false luxury. Suddenly having someone he was at school around him again allows him someone he can really talk to, giving him the feeling that maybe he can take his life back. Yumiyoshi the hotel girl is someone the main character is very attracted to, and as their relationship develops he feels she could be the one that brings an end to his cycle of non-relationships that he has been living with since he split from his own wife.

Saying that Dance Dance Dance is about characters and their lives of parental neglect, spoilt wealth, departed wives and the like may make it sound mundane but instead there is something compelling about this novel.
The narrative and the mystery that is present drives the reader on, the interaction between the character and his outlook on live being considered and appealing. Along with the babysitting, nostalgia and potential for new love there is more to this strange cast. There is still the issue of the missing girl that knows both men, a high priced call girl with a habit of vanishing when she feels like it. The photographers latest boyfriend, a one armed beach poet. A murder that sees our hero run around by the police. Then there is the other, the things which are less easy to explain, the weirdness on top of weirdness. The sheep man who resides in the spaces between the old hotel and the new, a guide to the narrator. A room with six skeletons, representing the deaths of people we come in to contact with, bodies counted off through the book. Then there are the senses that Yuki gets which are unnervingly accurate and have their own effect on the course of the book. And weirdest of all - there are two occasions where things are said which seem deeply significant, and seem to have come from nowhere that catch the attentive reader, but in the end are part of this mystery which appear to remain unanswered.

July 2002

Title: number9dream
Author: David Mitchell
Publisher: Sceptre

number9dream is the second novel by British author David Mitchell, as with his debut Ghostwritten, influenced by his residence in Japan. Number 9 Dream is the story of Eiji, who comes to Tokyo looking for his father. The child of a married man's mistress, Eiji has never met his father, and his mother was an alcoholic who abandoned him and his sister with her family. With the death of his twin sister Anju at 11 years old he has been driven by his need to find his father. Between his father's lawyer and wife though, it seems that fulfilling this dream is not going to be easy. Along the way he somehow gets mixed up with the Yakuza and finds that things keep getting more complicated than they should be, though luckily makes enough friends to see him through the hard times.

To go with the title number9dream the book is broken into nine chapters, though to be fair the 9th part is blank. With that each chapter has an idea of dreams, or at least narrative injections - from the first chapter's day dreams, through the letters from a repentant mother, scenes from a computer game, sections from children's stories and the diary of a soldier during the second world war. Some of these contributions are quite nice and compliment the overall narrative quite well, some probably should contribute quite nicely, but for me become something of a drag - the main examples being the war diary and children's story. In the last chapter there is some reference to the title, with the suggestion that it was either a Beatle's or John Lennon track, with in turn reference to the track Norwegian Wood, which is the name of one of the most well known novels by one of Japan's most well known author's Murakami, who is also passingly referenced earlier in the book. Keeping with the title's themes the number 9 is something, which crops up repeatedly, having a certain significance in Japanese numerology.

Mitchell has clearly immersed himself in the culture of Japan in his time there, seeming to be well versed in language and geographical ideas of Japan. Which makes the narrative so much more fluid and allows for a certain level of extra detail that wouldn't be possible otherwise. In addition to his main narrative the sub narratives in each chapter demonstrate the range of the author and make this more than just the story of a boy looking for his father. Though as I've already mentioned the enjoyment of some of those add ins varies, and one could almost expect that they become too much of a gimmick on the whole. Though to be fair I enjoyed the book over all, the sections that didn't do it for me being brief enough that they didn't affect overall.

July 2002

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