I finished reading「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」by 沼田まほかる

I have finished reading 沼田まほかる’s novel 「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」. Reading this book took me a long time, but even though I struggled to go through some parts of it, I enjoyed reading it. I know that some passages were above my level, and even if I could follow the story and most of the dialogues without problems, I may have had a partial understanding of some narrative parts. As a consequence, I don’t feel qualified to write a review of this book. I think I missed some of its subtilities. I will, instead, write about how I read this novel.

The story turns around Towako, a young woman, and her relationship with men. Three male characters shape her life: Jinji, with whom she lives, Kurosaki, her former lover, and Mizushima, a salesman she meets in the course of the story. Right from the beginning, though, we feel that something will happen, or maybe has happened, that we, and Towako, still don’t know.

To be honest, I read the first half of the novel more with a sense of duty than a real pleasure. I saw the protagonist with detachment, and I was not able to sympathise with her feelings, her actions or her words. On the contrary, I felt immediate empathy with Jinji, the man who shares Towako’s life when our novel opens.

At this time, I felt a lot of doubts about whether I was understanding the novel correctly or not. I read some reviews posted on Amazon and, at first, felt that I was not at all having the same understanding of the novel than most of the reviewers, that maybe I missed something because of my Japanese level. But then, I read this other review. Someone said that because he was a man in his forties, he read the novel from the point of view of Jinji. I am not a man in his forties, but I did read the novel from Jinji’s point of view. It may sound strange, but I felt that I received some kind of approval for my interpretation because a native reader had it too. I also felt that the novel offered different readings and had a quality that I could not perceive.

When I reached the half of the story, however, things began to change. I saw Towako differently. She appeared to me as an actress who only got a minor role and watches from the backstage how others, play after play, perform the leading role that should have belonged to her. I saw that perhaps, this novel was not about Towako and men, but Towako and women, the women she is not and longs to be.

This revelation made me want to read the novel from the start again, to see what I missed (but I didn’t). I began feeling sympathy and concern for the protagonist and at the same time, the mystery really started to unfold, the tension steadily growing until the end. This is why I enjoyed reading the second half of the novel very much, much more than the beginning.

As for the Japanese, it was challenging. As I said in a previous post, all the dialogues between Towako and Jinji are written in the Kansai dialect. This was puzzling to me, and it added difficulty to a novel which was already complex.

This is an example of what I would qualify as “a difficult passage” but also considers as a beautiful one (though I still can’t judge the writing quality of a novel in Japanese):

(十和子・とわこ our protagonist、陣治・じんじ the man she lives with、黒崎・くろさき her former lover)

十和子がうんざりしきっているのにはおかまいなく、くどくどと愚痴をこぼすうちに、陣治の顔はどす黒くなっていく。鬱屈した憤怒に顔を歪めた陣治は、古代の仮面劇を演じる人物さながら、妙に鮮烈なオーラを放っていた。それほど直截で単純な喜怒哀楽を、人に対しても物に対しても、十和子は感じたことがなかった。黒崎への執着も、黒崎を失ったことの悲嘆も、悔恨や逡巡や自責や得体の知れない不安を含み込んでいて、十和子の芯を蝕みながらももっとへなへなと張りがなっかた。

– 沼田まほかる、「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」、幻冬舎文庫、p.49-50

I could not possibly translate such a passage. I looked up words, and I understand enough of it to know what message it conveys. Most of the narrative passages are much easier than this one, but the key to understanding the protagonist lies in this kind of description.

Now that I have finished it, I will pick a new book from my 2018 reading challenge list. I hope the next one will be easier!