As my job allows me to catch up on my reading list and add more titles to it – sigh – I recently and completely by chance laid my hands on Keiichirô Hirano’s latest novel, Compléter les blancs (kûhaku wo mitashinasai). Sorry for the non-French speakers, but I wasn’t able to find the English equivalent – is it possible that Corinne Atlan did her work before any anglophone translator? It would be extremely surprising but nevertheless plausible. I think. Anyway.
Like Haruki Murakami, Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Takashi Hiraide, Joe Hisaishi and many more, Japanese floklore and reality interweave in order to create that indiosyncratic atmosphere Japan lovers from the Western world like me are particularly attracted to. We can feel it through the words they use, the way they think, the notes they choose, the sounds and images that reach us. It’s more than a feeling actually; the essence of their culture resides in their text, their music, their drawings – their art. And it powerfully takes possesion of your senses. That’s where you let go and let yourself be in the moment, with the characters and their (hi)story.
The instant – the here and now – is an important notion in Asian doctrines and medicine, and throughout Compléter les blancs you understand how efficient yet disturbing growing up with this thinking becomes. Maybe the concept is too frightening, too BIG to be grasped by the human mind. However I think it’s spot-on. Yesterday when I turned the last page, read the last words and closed the book, I was moved but in a way I couldn’t really describe. I was joyous and disconcerted, flabbergasted and light, relieved and anxiously pondering at once. And to be fair, it’s exactly what I take great delight in when the reading is over. Because it goes beyond the pleasure you took while unravelling the plot; it continues some time after you’re done with the book as an object. The sensation is that of a cloud full of ideas floating around you. I experienced being wrapped in a captivating brainstorming fog. That’s what a great piece does to me – like Gaël Faye’s Petit pays and Shan Sa’s La joueuese de go I spoke of in a previous post.
I know I’m always (more than) a bit vague when I review books, but I just want to tempt you through the explosion of emotions they provoke in me. See if they will do the same for you – although it is kind of unlikely since I’m a highly emotional person at all times. I wasn’t expecting anything from that book when I picked it up – nothing but to encounter that poetic Japanese art and spirit through Hirano’s writing. I did find it indeed. The problem of suicide in Japan adjoins the overwhelming joy of some quality time spent with one’s family, and the writer gives us clues as to the potential solution one may find in either of these sources of serenity. Do we choose one of those paths? Do we have to or do they impose their will on us independently, influencing our actions inconsciously? Many answers to even more questions in this psychological novel that leads you… Well, I don’t know where, but it must be somewhere!
P.S.: a lovely article on Japanese folklore.