月曜日, 6月 21, 2004

"Install," by Wataya Risa

      On February 20, 2004, Wataya Risa was awarded the 130th annual Akutagawa Prize at age 19 for her novel Keritai Senaka (A Back I Want To Kick), making her the youngest person to ever win the coveted literary prize. She also won the Bungei Prize at age 17 for her first novel, Install. Both are bestsellers.
      I'm excited about her right now because I read Install last week and I loved it! I just started reading Keritai Senaka. I can't believe how good Install is. I bought it half-price at a used bookstore not even expecting to like it that much, because I buy so many Japanese books and usually I just lose interest and give up after a few pages. But Install was different. Once I got past the first few pages (which were a little difficult) I started to really dig her writing style. When the main character woke up in her room after deciding to skip school for awhile and described the "harmful honey-colored" (yuugai na hachiiro) light, that was the point I started to really like the book. And it just got better and better.
      The first thing I noticed was the richness of her vocabulary. It's no surprise that her vocabulary is better than mine in Japanese, but there's something unique and sophistocated about the way she uses words. Although I found myself using my Japanese dictionary quite a bit, the extra effort was worth it because the words she used and the way she used them were really interesting.
      The second thing I liked was the absurd, yet plausible situations that occurred in the story. There was nothing that was impossibly unrealistic, yet the book was full of very funny situations. Like when the main character, a high school girl, receives a big box of underwear samples from her neighbor. That was really funny. And instead of going to school, she winds up in her neighbor's closet chatting on an Internet porn site every day. The novel occasionally touches on deeper social issues such as the university entrance exam system, the anonymity of the Internet, deception vs. authenticity, how to get yourself out of an emotional crisis (this is the meaning of the "Install" title; there's a parallel between re-installing a computer and re-starting your own outlook on life), the way children are exposed to explicit sexual content at a young age, and the weakening of family and neighborhood ties. The voice of the teenage character is exactly right. She captures perfectly what it's like to be 17.
      I was completely blown away by the quality of the writing in this book. I was hoping I wouldn't be disappointed by the ending, and I wasn't. It was satisfying. In retrospect I think the crisis moment of the plot occurred during Asako's cyberchat conversations with Seiji. When he asks "Who are you?" that question resonated on multiple levels. That's the important question, isn't it? The many deceptions of the main character were necessary for her to get herself out of the rut she was in, but ultimately her disguise wasn't as complete as she thought it was, and she had to return to her own true self.


  • At 8:57 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    Thanks for the name-check!

    I love Wataya too (though I didn't know she existed until she was nominated for the Akutagawa prize), and I enjoyed Keritai Senaka even more than Install. At first I thought I was going to enjoy it less, because it felt like it was just going to be another boring "two socially awkward kids find happiness with each other" story... but it wasn't. It's so much better than that. The flashback to the Mugi store in particular was incredible.

  • At 11:35 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Cool! I am at the store flashback part now. I laughed when the model called the main character "Mononokehime." And the cereal thing was really funny too.
    Yeah, I know what you mean about the beginning, because Ninagawa is not a very attractive character. None of the characters seem as interesting as the Install characters so far, but I'm glad to hear it gets better! Thanks for commenting!

  • At 9:52 午前, Blogger about said…

    Why can't they put this out in English?
    I bought this book randomly from Kinokuniya so that whenever I was losing interest in learning Japanese I could look at a Japanese novel and think "Okay, one day I'll be able to read novels in Japanese if I just keep at it."
    But I just thought I'd look it up on the internet to see what it's about and now I know! And I want to read it now and also Keritai Senaka! This isn't fair. They've put out Hitomi Kanehara's books out and she won the same prize with Wataya, why couldn't they put hers as well?
    But thanks for writing this article, now I know and I'm even more determined to keep learning Japanese.



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