Translated by Allison Markin Powell, this quirky novel is a contemporary love story which examines the mysteries of other people’s lives. It’s about the fear of intimacy versus the fear of being alone, and also the differences between generations. It felt very Japanese to me, by which I mean that I didn’t always understand what the characters were discussing, because it was written for a Japanese audience. Mostly I liked this book; it has an offbeat charm and the characters are well-drawn. There is not much of a plot, so the appeal rests on the above qualities.
Hitomi is the narrator, a young woman who works at a second-hand goods shop which is owned by the eccentric Mr Nakano. She’s fascinated by her employer, who gets tangled in love affairs and is in conflict with his sister, the arty Masayo. Also working at the shop is Takeo, a somewhat grumpy young man whose mutual attraction to Hitomi is constantly repressed. Neither of them can decide what kind of relationship they want. It seems easier to occasionally have dinner and sex than to have an actual romance. They edge around each other and leave things unsaid. Hitomi’s emotions are buried beneath her words and actions. It’s like everyone is playing a game but no one knows the rules.
Food is a frequent presence in the story, as characters share meals while discussing their problems. Used goods and antiques are a significant element too, tying into the theme of generational differences. Some of the characters are very minor, drifting in and out of the story as they do in real life. I felt that the book was a little too long and my interest in it decreased towards the end. I think this was inevitable considering the slow pace and minimal plot.
First published in Japan in 2005. This English edition published in 2016.