Thank you to Pushkin Press for providing me with a copy of Hiromi Kawakami’s short story collection, Record of a Night Too Brief, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT– Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami’s short story collection, Record of a Night Too Brief, is comprised of three short stories that are surreal and magical. Translated to english by Lucy North.
LIKE/DISLIKE– Normally, I break what I like and dislike about a book, into two separate areas, but with Record of a Night Too Brief, the likes and dislikes blend together, and I thought it would be easiest to simply discuss the book as a whole.
The stories in Record of a Night Too Brief are quite bizarre. They are works of surrealism, with bits of magical realism, and I wondered how much of Japanese folklore was being worked in, that I wasn’t picking up on. Normally when I read translated fiction, I feel like I understand the cultural context, but perhaps because these stories were so unusual, I felt like I was getting lost in translation.
I have a confession: Until reading NetGalley’s description of the collection a few minutes ago, I didn’t realize that this was a collection of three stories. I thought it was a bunch of very short stories with two longer ones at the end. I’m not sure how I missed it ( perhaps because it was so bizarre and confusing) but I didn’t not catch on that the short chapters at the beginning of the story were actually one story, rather than individual shorts. Being totally honest, I didn’t understand them. I read them more as stories that elicited an emotion, rather than stories that make sense from a storytelling standpoint. It was like walking around a modern art exhibit.
The last two stories, I enjoyed far more. The first was about a woman who is haunted by her older brother, who has died. This brother had been arranged to marry a local girl, who does not know what he looked like, so the family simply marries her to his younger brother, without telling her. The dead brother haunts the household, but only his sister can see him. In one chilling scene, his ghost attempts to make-out with his would-be bride, which his sister can see and she watches as her new sister-in-law struggles to breathe, because a ghost is pressing on her chest.
The last story features a woman who comes home from work to discover a snake in her house. This snake can shift into a woman. It turns out there is a whole world of people who can turn themselves into snakes and they try to lure other people to join them. Animals and transformation are themes woven throughout this collection.
RECOMMEND– Maybe. Record of a Night Too Brief wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did find the story about the ghost to be engaging. Overwhelmingly, I felt like I wasn’t understanding these stories. If you are able to read Kawakami’s stories in Japanese or know more about the Japanese culture, I suspect you would have a very different experience. This collection did win Japan’s Akutagawa prize.