The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

Friday, February 10, 2012


The Lake
Things look different depending on your perspective. As I see it, fighting to bridge those gaps isn't what really matters. The most important thing is to know them inside and out, as differences, and to understand why certain people are the way they are.

When Chihiro's mother dies, she decides to move to Tokyo to grapple with the grief that's enveloping her. Her parents had never married since her father is a respected businessman and her mother is the owner of a bar - her father's family was always opposed to their relationship. However, Chihiro feels as if she is losing her father as well, since the link that held them together - her mother - is no more. In Tokyo, Chihiro, hoping for a release from her pain, begins to imagine that maybe her mother's death is indeed a blessing in disguise, as she is now free to do whatever she wished. She becomes enamored by her neighbor, Nakajima, who she sees often from her window. It seems as if he is just as captivated by her. Over time though, they slowly progress from window infatuation to a friendly platonic relationship. Nakajima, though is just as complicated as Chihiro - there is something in his past that scares him tremendously, he keeps talking about a couple of friends he wants to meet but is scared to, and he even sleeps with a wire rack under his arm.

Banana Yoshimoto has a lot of fans in the literary world, which is what made me want to read this work. So when Melville House offered it for review on NetGalley last year, I jumped at the chance. It did however take me a while to get to it (blame the hype, shall we?) and when I did finally read it last month, I was disappointed. Something about the book just didn't work for me, although for the most part, it was good. I think it might have been my elevated expectations that did it in, but not entirely.

The one thing that bothered me was that the book read like a bunch of disjointed journal entries. I never knew where the jump was happening until a few lines into the new tangent. It could be that my ebook wasn't properly demarcated, but that frequent change of thoughts messed with my flow. I also felt bothered by the narrator's (Chihiro's) stream-of-consciousness. That made the book one-dimensional, even though the story wasn't. As a reader, I like to make my own interpretations of actions in a book - unfortunately, with the narrator explaining what every single thing meant, I felt frustrated. I usually don't have a problem with stream-of-consciousness but I guess that is when the stream feels more personal to the narrator than when I feel that the narrator is imposing his/her thoughts on me.

I think I began to relate to the book, when I was more than two-thirds in. Yoshimoto definitely gave an interesting look into a relationship in its nascent stage. How at first, both persons start compromising and accommodating, focusing on impressing the other person, letting the other do whatever he or she wants, without appearing to let it impact their relationship. But at some point, both start to grapple with the question of where the relationship is heading. Should they invest more into it? Should they finally break it up, seeing as how much they are just adjusting and excusing? Chihiro was also trying hard to convince herself that she loved him - I didn't really buy it. There was too much pitying in her attitude for me to feel that she was genuinely in love with him. Occasionally she was doubtful too - one day she woke up wanting to help Nakajima and the next day, she was confused about why she was holding on to him.

The Lake also addressed the feelings one feels on losing a parent, in this case, the mother. Both Nakajima and Chihiro were trying to come to terms with their mothers' deaths, and I felt that this was the best aspect of the book. The emotions were addressed well - the desire of the characters to run away from anything familiar, the confusion and anxiety of the change that follows leaving home, the feeling that they could have done more when their mothers were alive, and even missing the dreaded visit to home that one made to meet their mother but not having to do it anymore.

Although the first half explored these themes through the relationship between Chihiro and Nakajima, the second half used Chihiro's artistic talents to show their coming-of-age. Grief was the predominant theme. I did like how the characters evolved over time, addressing their failings and their expectations from each other, one way or the other. Overall, I enjoyed some aspects of the book, but others fell flat on me. I'm feeling less inclined to try other of this author's works, but I've heard her Kitchen is a fabulous read and that The Lake did disappoint some of her fans. Maybe I should give Kitchen a try?


I received this ebook for free for review from the publisher via NetGalley.


13 comments:

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

When I read stream of consciousness, I knew this isn't for me.  Thanks for your review!

Ti said...

I started this book (twice) and can't seem to get through it. It drags. That seems to be my problem this year. A lot of books are dragging for me. Could be me. 

Athira / Aths said...

You're welcome! I haven't read too many stream-of-consciousness novels, so it's still an experimental area for me.

Athira / Aths said...

I did find it dragging at points, but I think I was insistent on reading it, so I somehow managed.

zibilee said...

I bought this one a few months ago, and have also waited to read it because of the hype. I am not sure what I would think about it based on your review. I don't really dig stream of consciousness  writing, and I have a feeling that would annoy me. But the parts about grief definitely intrigue. I am going to have to give this one the 50 page test and see what I think. I do thank you for your highly perceptive and insightful post today!

Athira / Aths said...

I think your 50 page test is reasonable. Although I did get annoyed by parts of the book, I remember feeling very curious as to how it would end. So you might like it too.

Helen Murdoch said...

I enjoyed her book Kitchen when I read it many years ago, but I haven't rushed to read this one and I must say your review makes me realize that's okay.

Athira / Aths said...

I think I should give Kitchen a try, just so I can have a better measure of her writing. I feel a bit disappointed that this didn't work out well.

Leeswammes said...

Great review, Aths! At first when I heard about this book I was really keen to read it but I've read a few more reviews like yours and I read Kitchen a few months ago and now I'm not so sure anymore. I think I'll still read it but it's not very high on the list.

JoV said...

Great Review Aths, Kitchen is good but I think you will like 'Goodbye Tsugumi' more as it is a full length novel. I enjoyed all 4 books that I have read of Yoshimoto.

Athira / Aths said...

I should bump up Kitchen .. maybe it is something I will read some time in the future, maybe when I come across someone else's raving review.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks for that suggestion! Now that is a work I haven't heard of, making it much more appealing. :) I will definitely check it out.

Nyle Carmichael said...

Your "Recent Thoughts" link for First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty directs here for some reason. That aside, I've been enjoying reading your reviews. I recently remembered how much I love good books after journeying through Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, and I ended up finding your blog in search of similar material. Thanks so much for sharing your love and if you have any recommendations aside from the Wow! books, I'd love to hear them.