BOOKS: BUILDING A LIBRARY - Japanese Fiction
Mitchell, David, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The killer novel I urge on friends and strangers is Junichiro Tanizaki's exquisite The Makioka Sisters. The younger Tanizaki owed much to Poe and "foreign influences", but midway through his life the writer became interested in the traditional Japanese milieu he had once striven so zealously to reject. This combination of sinewy, barely visible psychodrama and stiff, Kyoto, 1930s-1940s etiquette makes The Makioka Sisters one of the 20th century's strongest 20 novels, in my humble opinion.
The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories is literary V&A covering Japan's modern era. As you would expect, the big names - Natsume Soseki, Osamu Dazai, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Shusaku Endo, Kobo Abe, Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto are all present and correct, as are galleries of less well-known (but not necessarily lesser) writers. Motojiro Kajii's "Lemon" is a beguiling example of a once popular format - a virtually plotless piece of writing on the hazy border between the short story, the prose poem and meditation.
It is unlikely that Haruki Murakami needs any introduction but just in case, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his finest novel to date and it is very fine indeed. Murakami is a seductive short-story writer too, as his collections The Elephant Vanishes and After the Quake testify. Another contemporary writer is Taichi Yamada whose Strangers is a ghost story of the highest order. Fans of "Japan Extreme" will enjoy Ryu Murakami's bespattered In the Miso Soup. Probably not one for Mother's Day. If you come across any of the wry, cerebral Saiichi Maruya's work, buy it and don't lend it out. …