The Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

I couldn’t have been more disappointed with this. Of course I did that soul-searching where one’s own inadequacies are put forward as the reason for a failure to like something that Should Be Liked. New shelf idea. Should Have Been Liked But Wasn’t.

This is a very very VERY Japanese book and anything I say about it is merely the opinion of one who is ignorant of the culture which imbues it. Needless to say, the whole idea of the male-female relations, the ways in which the women have to live is repugnant. And the man with whom girls keep falling in love is short and fat, which is obviously supposed to be neither comical or offputting in the cultural context, though for the average Westerner reading, it is both of these. But beyond that, I found the ways in which things were expressed and described overly repetitive and the character of the main girl intolerable. Most unsympathetic of me, but there it is. I couldn’t sympathise and I most certainly couldn’t empathise. Tedious descriptions of the Snow Country did anything but make me visualise the gloriousness of the countryside, and yet I know from having been there that we are talking about stunning scenery such as I’ve never seen elsewhere.

I’m not prepared to blame the translator who is a genius.

I liked the other Kawabata I read very much – The Master of Go – but the balance is now firmly in favour of not trying him again.

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Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

I bought this the other day. Nice copy, hard cover, dust-jacket in good nick, a few Swiss francs, no more – everything to make the bookseller in me happy, not to mention the book collector, one being much the same as the other. I had to argue a bit along the way. You’ve read that. Have not. Have too. Have NOT!!! And I was right. Got home, checked shelves, have not read this. NOT NOT NOT. I’m right and you’re wrong, NYAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Last night I opened it, thinking I’d take it to bed. Page one and it was already looking familiar. Suspiciously familiar. So, I wondered to myself, as I had to deal with the feeling, unknown in my family for many generations, of being wrong: I can cope with the fact that I haven’t kept it, but why didn’t I record it on goodreads? Why didn’t I review it?

Got up this morning. Checked goodreads. Oh. Whoops. Here, ahem, is what I wrote straight after finishing this book.

I’ve never read a book before that starts off with a threat to sue the reviewer, in capital letters, no less:

THESE ARE UNCORRECTED PROOFS, ALL QUOTATIONS OR ATTRIBUTIONS SHOULD BE CHECKED AGAINST THE BOUND COPY OF THE BOOK. WE URGE THIS FOR THE SAKE OF EDITORIAL ACURACY AS WELL AS FOR YOUR LEGAL PROTECTION.

Well. I wasn’t going to quote anything from this book, there isn’t anything that is zippily quotable. On the other hand, it just has to be done, doesn’t it? Now. In the context of that threatening start. The setting of the quote is two Swiss people talking to the owner of a little café in England:

‘Your countryside here is so wonderful! We have many fine mountains in Switzerland. But what you have here is different. They are hills. You call them hills. They have a charm all their own because they are gentle and friendly.’

I’m from an area that has hills, and living in Geneva now being surrounded by spectacular snow-capped mountains would have made me laugh at this as being ridiculous…but for the fact that I recently had to sit through a local’s pictures from her holiday in the UK. She and another local were admiring these cruddy little hills and when I questioned their wisdom on this matter, pointing out that they themselves came from spectacular Alpine scenery, they started explaining in great detail the many things about these meagre bumps in the ground that made them superior. You live and learn. It isn’t only grass that is greener, then.

So sue me, Faber.

PS: No, please, please please don’t sue me…………….The acuracy thing? It was a joke. I just couldn’t resist.

(This is a very nice collection of short stories, by the way, if I might say something on-topic for a moment.)