Book Review: Banana Yoshimoto’s Asleep

AsleepAsleep by Banana Yoshimoto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was either a very good idea or a very bad idea to have ‘Asleep’ as my bedside reading for the last period. It’s not a long book: three short novellas, and it wasn’t that I was uninterested, but like her characters, in a netherworld between sleep and awakedness, between life and death, I just kept … falling asleep. But in the end, I’m very glad to have stumbled upon this book. I’d heard about Banana Yoshimoto for many years without reading any of her work. I found her characters interesting, although I’m not sure how well I knew them by the end of the novellas. The setting, contemporary Japan, with three young women at the centre of each story intrigued me. The stories are mostly about their interior worlds, their feelings, how they relate, tenuously, to people around them. There’s certainly a loneliness and ennui about them. The friendships between women are much more alive than their romantic entanglements with men. Death (or the near-death of a long-term coma) appears as a mystery; grief is more disbelief than sadness, and why be sad if the ghosts of those who have passed on can talk to you in your sleep? Occasionally, I found the language awkward and I wondered if there was a translation issue. ‘I’ll end up marrying some businessman … And then I want to put together a pleasant, bright, stable household’, said one character. But at other times, I found a lovely poetry in the writing, particularly in describing a natural setting or the weather or a quality of light as a stand-in for someone’s own emotional state. In the end, the book did awaken an interest in me to read more by Banana Yoshimoto. Maybe I’ll check out her blockbuster debut, Kitchen, next.

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