The Lake

Banana Yoshimoto

First Sentence:    The first time Nakajima stayed over, I dreamed of my dead mom.

I really like this book. I’ve never read Banana Yoshimoto before but I’ll definitely look out for her in the future. Firstly, it is a very Japanese book, whatever that actually means, but it really is. The language, the characters, just the overall sense you get when reading is extremely…Japanese. In fact the plot itself even has a lot in common with another well received Japanese book published this year , with quirky young lovers and even mysterious religious cults making an appearance. On the surface, this book is about Chihiro, a young girl who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother. She works as an artist of sorts, painting murals on public buildings, and spends a lot of her spare time just staring out the window of her apartment. It is then that she notices Nakajima in the building opposite doing likewise, and a relationship is born. But all of this is just on the surface, and this book is a pretty deep lake with a lot going on underneath. Like why is Nakajima not interested in sex and who are Mino and Chii, his mysterious friends who live by the lake? Like that other great Japanese novel published this year, there are a lot of questions in this book, but is an extremely enjoyable ride if you are willing to go along with it. Just act like Chihiro:

I smiled and said hi, my mind awhirl with all I didn’t understand.

You won’t regret it…

* * * *

Last Sentence:    “Even if it won’t be as delicious as Mino’s.”

Last Sentence explained:     The final sentence is Chihiro speaking to Nakajima. She is referencing the tea Mino serves, made with the local spring water which they are all so fond of. It is not the best extract to highlight the quality of the writing in this book. However…

Here we were, two ridiculously fragile people, sliding along on a very thin layer of ice all the time, each of us ready to slip and take the other down at any moment, the most unsteady of couples – and yet I believed what I had said. It would be all right.

I think that extract gives a good sense of what this book is like. By the end of the story it comes to light that Nakajima had been abducted as a child by a cult and brought up by them until he escaped. Mino and Chii were also in this cult and have been unable to readjust to society, hence the reclusive lakeside living. One of the more memorable scenes in the book is when Nakajima tells of the night he ran away from the cult. The first living being he encounters is a horse, and it is possible that this horse ultimately saved him:

The horse just kept looking at me, it didn’t seem to be thinking anything, his eyes were like two lakes, so gorgeous, drawing me in.

Any scene really though, any page in this very fine book is worthy of your attention. It certainly had me gripped…

Memorable quotes from the book:

“Something inside me shimmered.”

“Nakajima’s past would always be there, so the foundation could crumble at any moment. That’s what happens, I realized, when people destroy other people.”

“[…] I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t anymore. It took time for my heart to unclench itself.”

“The feeling that every little thing we said, these conversations, at any moment they could stop being possible, and so they were precious, it was that feeling, and the sense of the miracle of this shared moment, here and now.”

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2 thoughts on “The Lake

  1. Nice writeup of a really special book. That line about the fragile people on ice is the same one that stuck out to me when I read it. I’ve heard her other one, Kitchen, is good, though haven’t tried it.

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