The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

Summary

[The Lake] tells the tale of a young woman who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. She finds herself spending too much time staring out her window, though … until she realizes she’s gotten used to seeing a young man across the street staring out his window, too.
They eventually embark on a hesitant romance, until she learns that he has been the victim of some form of childhood trauma. Visiting two of his friends who live a monastic life beside a beautiful lake, she begins to piece together a series of clues that lead her to suspect his experience may have had something to do with a bizarre religious cult. . . .

~from Goodreads

What I Liked

There aren’t a lot of authors who can pull of such deliberate simplicity without sacrificing beauty and power. Yoshimoto’s writing is straightforward, honest, almost stark, but is imbued with a grace and potency that leaves one thirsting for more. The ambiguous and unconventional relationship between the main characters really spoke to me, and was done with such wonderful unsentimental candor that it felt all the more captivating. The characters were realistic and imperfect, but subtly wound their way into my psyche with a soft affection that I rarely feel for characters in such a brief novel. This book has some magic in it, and anyone taken in by it will realize it is much more than it first appears to be.

What I Didn’t Like

It’s funny, because the things I didn’t like about this book are part and parcel of the things I liked. The characters were flawed, and sometimes shockingly lacking in empathy. They were written so simply that at times the distance between them and the reader can feel forced, but I think that’s part of the point. To me, the beauty of these characters is that they drew me in with almost equal effort to how they pushed me away. Yoshimoto forces a kind of distance between the reader and the characters, because otherwise the reader wouldn’t be able to see the big picture. In a small book, everything must pack a punch, and I don’t know if that can be done if the reader gets too close, too attached, to any of the characters. Maybe that isn’t true or doesn’t make sense, but the distance felt deliberate and necessary to me, and really enhanced the whole experience.

My Recommendation

I would absolutely recommend this book, especially to people looking for something a little different, a bit unorthodox. It leaves one with a soft, sad kind of feeling inside, and such a subtle reaction is one I rarely get from a book so short. Anybody with a connection to non-traditional relationships might enjoy this book as well…at least for me, it felt nice for that to be represented in a book without it being a spectacle.

About the Author

Banana Yoshimoto (よしもと ばなな or 吉本 ばなな) is the pen name of Mahoko Yoshimoto (吉本 真秀子) Along with having a famous father, poet Takaaki Yoshimoto, Banana’s sister, Haruno Yoiko, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. Growing up in a liberal family, she learned the value of independence from a young age. She graduated from Nihon University’s Art College, majoring in Literature. During that time, she took the pseudonym “Banana” after her love of banana flowers, a name she recognizes as both “cute” and “purposefully androgynous.” Despite her success, Yoshimoto remains a down-to-earth and obscure figure. Whenever she appears in public she eschews make-up and dresses simply. She keeps her personal life guarded, and reveals little about her certified Rolfing practitioner, Hiroyoshi Tahata and son (born in 2003). Instead, she talks about her writing. Each day she takes half an hour to write at her computer, and she says, “I tend to feel guilty because I write these stories almost for fun.” She keeps an on-line journal for her English speaking fans at yoshimotobanana.com/diary.

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