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Book review: 「豆の上で眠る」by 湊かなえ

In 湊かなえ’s novel, the reader is invited to blink into a family’s untold secrets, but before we know it, we find ourselves sharing the protagonist’s emotions and feeling unexpectedly involved in her story. While personal tragedy and family drama give the novel its deepness, the mystery and quest for the truth make it a real page-turner.

I finished reading 「豆の上で眠る」 by 湊かなえ and I loved it! The story is much more complex and gripping than I expected it to be by just reading the summary.

The summary tells us that we are to expect a “sisters mystery” but I personally thought that the relationship between the little sister and the mother was much more fascinating than the mystery surrounding the two sisters.

The narrator and protagonist Yuiko is returning home to visit her mother who had been admitted to hospital. This trip will be filled with memories of the past, focusing on the disappearance of Yuiko’s big sister, Mayuko, when they were kids. Contrary to what the summary suggests, the story is not as much centred on what happened when Mayuko finally returned, as depicting the days following her disappearance.

I would say that this novel is the exact opposite of 「噓を愛する女」by 岡部えつ that I have read just before. As I wrote in my review of 「噓を愛する女」, the desire to unveil the mystery was the true motivation that kept me reading, and the relationships that bound the characters were dim. In 「豆の上で眠る」, even if we quickly feel that something is wrong and come to share the feeling of uneasiness of Yuiko, the mystery does not play the central role in this story. The relationship between the members of the family and the way Yuiko experienced the loss of her beloved sister and treasured child of the family is what makes this novel addictive.

While the novel is progressing toward the solving of the mystery, we go through bitter memories and distressful episodes that reveal, little by little, the unspoken cruelty that can lie beneath casual events. I found no pathos or lamentation as Yuiko recalls the painful episodes of her childhood, but the reserved and self-contained way Yuiko unfolds her story was balanced by my own emotions, that flowed over me as I made my way through the novel.

As the truth begins to reveal itself, it becomes impossible to stop reading. This book was a “reading in Japanese challenge” but it soon became my bedside reading!

As for the Japanese level, I would say that it was unexpectedly easy to read. When I read the opening chapter, I didn’t feel confident at all, which is normal given that I have to get used to the author’s style while dealing with new characters and a new setting. Once I became familiar with the characters and their relationships, I also felt more confident with the Japanese. One difficulty of the novel is that it intertwines two narratives: the present with Yuiko returning home during the Summer and the past with the events preceding and following the disappearance of Mayuko. The story keeps shuttling between past and present and, at the beginning, it always took me some time to realise that the novel had changed its focus. But then I learnt to pay attention to hints that told the reader what we are talking about. For example, when the present Yuiko talks about home, she uses the word “実家”, but when the past Yuiko evokes home, the term “家” is used.

This is an extract, to give you an idea of the novel’s difficulty and, hopefully, kindle your interest in it!

We are at the beginning of the novel, in the first evocation of Yuiko’s childhood. Yuiko’s sister Mayuko was good at reading and used to read Yuiko fairy tales from children books.

真佑子・まゆこ the big sister
結衣子・ゆいこ the little sister

真佑子ちゃんは幼い頃から本を読むのが好みだった。私は真佑子ちゃんのおかげでせっかく家に本がたくさんあるというのに、それを手に取ろうともせず、外で遊んでばかりいた。物語に興味がなかったわけではない。テレビアニメは夢中で見ていたし、絵本も眺めるのも嫌いではなかった。

苦手だったのは文字だ。真佑子ちゃんは幼稚園に上がった頃にはすでに、平仮名を全部読めるようになっていた。それを周囲の人たちから感心されたのが誇らしかったのか、母は私にも幼稚園に上がると同時に、文字を読むことを強要するようになった。街中の看板やポスターを指さしては、結衣子ちゃん、あれは何で書いてあるの?と人前でわざとらしく大きな声で訪ねてくるのだ。

– 湊かなえ、「豆の上で眠る」、新潮文庫、2017 (p. 11-12)

To conclude, I wholeheartedly recommend this book!

Ref .湊かなえ、「豆の上で眠る」、新潮文庫、2017

4 Comments

  1. Akylina says

    That sounds really fascinating! You always talk about such interesting books, I’ll definitely be using your recommendations to pursue my next Japanese read 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2018 Reading challenge! | Inside That Japanese Book

  3. Pingback: Currently reading:「イノセント・デイズ」by 早見和真 | Inside That Japanese Book

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