By Mieko Kawakami, 2022
Fuyuko is a proofreader who works from home and becomes completely absorbed in her work. When she did work in an office, she was treated as an outcast, so her retreat into her home is something of a relief for her.
As is typical in Kawakami’s work, weather plays a major part in the story. It is almost a character in itself, oppressive and mood-bending. Other characters in the book are few — only Fuyuko’s main work contact and almost friend, Hijiri, and Mr Mitsutsuka.
Hijiri is successful, opinionated, and a big drinker who has an outsize influence on Fuyuko. She invites Fuyuko out for drinks one night, and talks at her for a long time.
We get this all the time as women, right? Like, if you make plenty of money but don’t have kids, you might get called successful. But unless you have kids, no one will ever call you a great woman. You know what I mean?
I really liked Hijiri and agreed with a lot of her opinions. She embodies the feminist at work, struggling against patriarchal structures and even seeming to want to lift up Fuyuko at the same time.
It’s over drinks that we see Fuyuko in a social setting for the first time, and her introverted and malleable nature come through. Hijiri rambles at length about sexism, making assumptions about Fuyuko that Fuyuko is either loathe to address or fails to clock.
But Fuyuko does learn something that night from Hijiri: alcohol helps her to relax. So Fuyuko begins drinking, a lot. It’s while she’s drunk that she meets Mr Mitsutsuka and becomes attached to him. He is kind to her, listens, and shares stories about himself. It is no surprise that this person becomes a love interest for Fuyuko, as he seems to be the first person to treat her as an equal and interesting person.
Although this is a short novel, it is even more poetic than Kawakami’s previous novels. It is enlightening and beautiful, taking us on a journey with a young woman who is suffering but doesn’t know it.