Book review: 『蹴りたい背中』 by Risa Wataya (綿矢りさ)


Title: 『蹴りたい背中』 (けりたいせなか)
Author: Risa WATAYA (綿矢りさ)
Published by 河出文庫
183 pages

This is Risa Wataya’s second and best known novel who won her the Akutagawa Prize at the age of 19.


My previous experience with Risa Wataya’s books has not been exciting. I read 『勝手にふるえてろ』in translation but remember not being impressed by it. More recently, I read 『私をくいとめて』 in Japanese and, similarly, did not find it very interesting.

Consequently, and even though it won the Akutagawa Prize, I was not expecting to love 『蹴りたい背中』. It was thus a pleasant surprise to discover that it has much more vivacity than the other two books I read, and I enjoyed it enough.

What I loved the most in the book is how the two protagonists are true loners who don’t fit in their environment. What they do is weird for the society, but not in the cool way of being eccentric and breaking social conventions, more in a pathetic and helpless sort of way that makes them authentic.

I feel like I have read tons of stories where the protagonists are supposedly marginalised persons who do not have friends and do not fit in society. But of course, they still manage to make friends in the course of the story, and you realise that they are actually very easy people to be with. So why were they loners in the first place? It looks like the author wants to give their characters the romantic aura that goes with solitude without wanting to make them unattractive characters.

On the contrary, I loved the complexity of Hatsu’s personality and how Risa Wataya stays faithful to her characters all along. They don’t suddenly become agreeable, plain and mainstream characters just because they met the right person. In 『蹴りたい背中』, the main protagonists certainly haven’t met the right person in each other and this encounter does not suddenly change their personality. They just have to deal with each other while still being themselves, and this hard-to-define relationship is what made the story truly interesting to me.

The structure of the book and how the story evolves share some similarities with 『私をくいとめて』, but it has much more energy, depth and audacity. In comparison, 『私をくいとめて』 looks like a pale, grown-up copy of 『蹴りたい背中』.

So overall, I enjoyed 『蹴りたい背中』 much more than I thought I would. Reading this book did not make me want to throw myself in another Risa Wataya’s book though, so I guess that my general feeling concerning this author has not changed much: I can see why people love her books, but it is not for me.

Book review: 『私をくいとめて』by Risa Wataya


Title: 『私をくいとめて』(わたしをくいとめて)
Author: Risa WATAYA (綿矢りさ)
Published by 朝日文庫

I am not very familiar with Risa Wataya’s work. I have read 『勝手にふるえてろ』 in translation before I started learning Japanese, and it did not leave a strong impression on me (I could not even tell you what is happening in the novel). I also tried to read her most famous novel 『蹴りたい背中』(Akutagawa prize), but it was too difficult to read in Japanese at the time.


In 『私をくいとめて』, we follow the daily life and thoughts of Mitsuko who is in her early thirties and single.

This is a short novel of 242 pages, so I never really thought of not finishing it, but I did not really like it either. The idea of a 33-year-old single woman as protagonist was appealing to me because I thought that maybe, there would be social elements in the novel (choosing one’s own path vs social conventions). It is not the case, however, and the story mainly focuses on Mitsuko’s internal life and thoughts.

What I disliked in this novel is that it felt like reading an autobiographical writing. If this book was an non fictional account of the author’s thoughts and life, I would be okay with it, but I would certainly not have bought it. However, given that this is a novel, I expect a little more in terms of plot and character development. I would say that none were satisfactory in 『私をくいとめて』. The story does become interesting towards the end, but it also does not seem to lead anywhere. I never felt like there is a constructed plot behind the story. As for the character development, the protagonist does have an interesting personality, but the story is entirely focused on her and the other characters are not really interesting (apart maybe, from Mitsuko’s colleague).

There are interesting things in this book however, like the thoughts on solitude and what the protagonist dares or not to do alone (like going to cafes or restaurants). But again, I could not help but have the feeling that the author was talking about her own experience rather than building a fictional setting and fictional characters.

I think that in the end, it comes down to whether or not you like this kind of novels and Risa Wataya’s writing style. I can see why some people love it, and I guess that it is easy to identify with the protagonist and share her thoughts.

I will certainly try again to read 『蹴りたい背中』one of these days because I have the book on my shelf and because it won the Akutagawa Prize. But I think that Risa Wataya’s novels are just not the kind of novels that I enjoy reading…