on 10 April 2014
Fifty-six year old Shimura Kobo lives alone in the suburbs of Nagasaki. His life is relatively uneventful; he goes to work each day and avoids socialising with his colleagues. Then food starts to go missing. The once he could dismiss, but it keeps on happening. Who is in his home, helping themselves to his food?
Nagasaki is a short, but perfectly formed tale, a novella at 109 pages. It doesn’t need to be longer though, it’s a small, intimate story that would likely be damaged with padding. I’ve noticed the French seem much happier with shorter books and yes, it’s French, but somehow seems very Japanese in its telling.
It’s based on a story that ran in several Japanese newspapers and it does make you think. Our homes are our personal spaces, it’s understandable to want them free of intruders. But there’s also a sense of selfishness in the situation…it wasn’t really harming Shimura and there’s a sense of remorse as the story continues. We would like to think we would help those less fortunate in our communities, but when push comes to shove, how many of us do anything?
There’s a lot to think about and discuss which makes this the perfect book for book groups on busy months. Sometimes novellas feel a bit too brief, if ultimately enjoyable, but I don’t think you’d have that problem with Nagasaki.
Review copy provided by publisher.
This novella by Eric Faye is based on real events. It's a strange and rather disturbing tale about a homeless lady who moves into a cupboard in an apartment owned by a late middle aged gent.
Kobo Shimura works as a meteorologist. It's clear from the outset that he's idiosyncratic, with hints of OCD. He's a loner who finds it difficult to relate to people socially. He notices things in his refrigerator are slightly out of place and he determines to find out why things are not as he left them. It's a strange tale of loneliness and isolation.
However, there's a much deeper undercurrent in a narrative which succinctly explores the very nature of society. There's not a spare word in a text which draws the reader into what seems, initially, to be an alien world. But on reflection, the sub text is truly powerful. Shimura's view of the world is then challenged by the intruder's narrative. The reader has the privilege of her insight and the dire economic circumstance, both personal and national, which lead her to knowingly take up residence in someone else's home.
I can't say I felt much empathy for either character; but I found the story totally compelling. It's very understated, but the themes explored are huge and it's thought provoking, profound and articulate in equal measure. It's stayed with me, both literally and visually. That's always a sign of powerful writing, with something to say.
My thanks to Gallic Press for a review copy via Netgalley.
on 14 April 2014
I received a surprise copy of this book from the publishers and have provided here an honest review.
This short novella is tells the tale of Shimura Kobo who begins to notice that food is going missing from his house. Because he lives on his own he finds this obviously disturbing and sets up a webcam to catch the thief in action. What he discovers is more than he could have imagined.
Before I started this book the synopsis rang a vague bell. This is because it is based on a true story of an incident in Japan in 2008.
Shimura san is a strange character. He lives alone, a situation which at first appears to be by design but which becomes apparent is something he is not entirely happy with. He likes his routine, to sit in the same tram seat, eat the same food, have items in their proper place. The solitary life of Shimura helps add to the atmosphere of the novel, giving a slightly creepy element to the first half.
The discovery of who is behind the thefts makes Shimura question himself. He feels angry, angry at the intruder, at himself and at the women in his past who have rejected him, leading him to examine his life.
This is a story that can easily be read in a sitting or two. Whilst I did like the book I would have perhaps liked to have a bit more of a conclusion, a little bit more information on the characters involved but it did want me to go back and read the news reports of the real event it is based on.
Good things come in small packages, and Eric Faye's very short novel 'Nagasaki' is a good proof of that saying. In order to succeed, a novel of this brief length needs to be readable and immediately interesting and engaging for the reader. 'Nagasaki' achieves this with a story that is intriguing fro the first page, easy to read, and compelling in a quiet way. Despite being set in a city most know as the site of one of the atomic bombs dropped in World War II, it is not about that at all. There are a couple of passing references to it, in the same way there would be to any significant event in the setting of a story, but no more than that. It could just as easily have been set in any other quiet Japanese city, or indeed a city in many parts of the world.
The main character for most of the story is Shimura, a very ordinary man in his fifties who lives an utterly quiet and uneventful bachelor life. At the start of the book he is puzzled by the disappearance of items of food from his fridge whilst he is out at work, and eventually sets up a webcam to get to the bottom of the mystery. I didn't expect the outcome of his investigation, and what follows is a clever and thoughtful story about modern life and people.
I admire the short length - novelists who aren't self-indulgent tend to write better books in my opinion. It would have been tempting to pad the story out with more characters, more events, extensions in various ways. Or to beef up the writing with extra philosophising or adjectives. But Faye uses the right number of words for what he wishes to convey, and chooses them well, and tells only what needs to be told. This sparing treatment goes well with the subject matter of the story and the Japanese setting.
Overall, this is a really well written short literary novel and very well translated. The short length should mean it can be 'given a go' by any reader who enjoys fiction. I would happily read another novel by Faye of any length - the writing style is good, it was easy to read, and the restraint shown here suggests he is a writer who is confident and competent.
First published in France in 2010, this short and gentle novella tells the story of Shimura Kobo, a bachelor in his 50s, who lives a solitary and well-regulated life alone in a small house where everything is impeccably, indeed obsessively, neat and tidy. Each day he follows the same invariable routine, going to the office where he works as a meteorologist, and where he has minimal interaction with his colleagues. A content, self-contained man. But gradually the suspicion grows on him that things have begun to disappear or be moved in his house. A missing yoghurt. A few centimetres of juice (he has measured the level in the carton). So he installs a webcam in the kitchen and monitors it from his office. And one day sees an unknown woman there in his house.
Based on a true story that occurred in Japan in 2008 when an unemployed woman managed to stay hidden in an occupied apartment for a year before being discovered, this deceptively simple book is a delight from page one. It belies its short length with the depth of human emotion and vulnerability it reveals, and it explores issue of solitude and loneliness and a lack of connection with those who surround us in our daily lives.
The style is elegant, measured and spare, with not a word wasted. It feels very Japanese in fact, and references to Japanese shops and food add to the overall authenticity. And yet the very pared-down nature of the prose inevitably has a curiously alienating effect, so that although we do in fact care about the two main protagonists, we in our turn feel somewhat disconnected from them just as Shimura-san feels disconnected from the world around him.
Setting the novella in Nagasaki inevitably adds another layer to the story, with recollections of the bombing always in the background, but the story nevertheless has a universal application and could in fact have taken place anywhere. Human loneliness and despair are the same the world over.
My one criticism of the book is that the ending seems a little rushed. Having shared Shimura’s life in such detail, we are not given the same opportunity to share in his unwelcome visitor’s world, and the conclusion comes rather abruptly.
However, these 100 or so pages contain a complete small world and one that I very much enjoyed entering into, and Eric Faye deserves as much success in translation as he did in France where he won the Grand Prix du Roman de l’ Académie Française in 2010.
on 15 August 2014
Shimura Kobo is a 56 year old meteorologist, living on his own in Nagasaki. He’s a man that sticks to a rigid routine of an evening, avoiding trips to the bar with colleagues in favour of getting home for dinner at the usual time.
He notices that food and drink is going missing after a while and sets out to find out what’s been happening. He initially doubts himself but some markings and receipts prove his suspicions.
He sets up a webcam in order to keep track of what’s been happening. When he watches the events unfold on the computer screen at works he imagines a different life for himself, one where he has a wife at home that occasionally acknowledges him watching.
This is a book about the people that live on the fringes of society, people that exist relatively alone and would be regarded as nobodies by much of the wider world. It’s a short and ultimately moving book that will resonate with many.
on 14 October 2015
I really enjoy Asian fiction and this novella was certainly an intriguing read. As Shimura Kobo lives the quiet life of a solitary bachelor he is unaware that he is, in fact, sharing his apartment with a stowaway in the tatami cupboard. As food disappears and objects mysterious move around his apartment, he sets up a hidden camera intending to capture what is really going on when he is out at work.. Beautifully written, this is a commentary on isolation in the modern world, on shadow people who live unnoticed on the fringes of society and where even families become dissociated from one another. Kobo and his flatmate share striking similarities, yet, like the other minor players in the novel there is a huge distance between them. Highly recommended.
Very short but intriguing.
A regular guy, a meteorologist, living in the Nagasaki of the title comes to feel someone is coming into his house and taking food and drink. He sets up CCTV cameras and discovers that he is right. Who is in his house - and why?
As I said, it's intriguing. It's mostly the meteorologist's story, his feelings about his (bachelor and lonely) life. How he reacts to the situation and what happens subsequently. But in the final few pages, the 'intruder' surprisingly gets a voice too. And that story is quite poignant too.
It does feel unfinished, a sudden ending that left me turning the page expecting another chapter, but I enjoyed the writing and the concept of this. It's just over 100 pages and a lovely snippet of Japanese life.
on 24 October 2014
A tiny gem of a book. Odd, very short - and I think some readers will find disappointing because it is so short and spends so little time in character development. It is written in a very simple almost flat style of writing, and it is only at the very end that the profoundness of the book arrives. This is not a perfect book, and if you are looking for a great story line, brilliant dialogue, happy endings, rounded characters - then don't bother with this. If you like odd little books that give you an insight into something different then try it.
on 31 May 2014
This very short story failed to impress. I didn't connect with either of the narrators, neither of whom were explored in any detail. The ending was abrupt and the whole book - all fifty-odd pages of it - seemed to have been very poorly translated and/or written. I'm actually glad it wasn't any longer as I only just made it to the end - and in only in utter disbelief at how bad it was. I wish I'd downloaded a sample before buying but, luckily, I only wasted 99p. Still, I'd have preferred to have donated it to charity.