I’ve been struggling to find a word to capture the essence of Banana Yoshimoto’s writing. There is something so ephemeral about it, so fragile, so melancholic, that it is hard to put it into words.
But otherworldly came to me today and that seems to describe things quite nicely.
Because the worlds that are contained within the pages of “Kitchen” and “Asleep” are somehow separate, somehow “other”.
They are worlds a little beyond our understanding, beyond our recognition. Worlds that exist only at night. Shadow places, where death and the dead are always present.
To imagine these worlds, is to imagine a place that is bathed in a cold, blue, neon glow. A nether world that is both artificial and yet vaguely familiar.
The characters seem to inhabit a comatose place, an in between space. Not quite living, but not quite dead.
They remember the dead all the time. They see the dead, hear the dead, communicate with them. They live with them and struggle to let them go.
Yoshimoto’s art, is that we feel the grief with that same emptiness. There is nothing surreal or fantastical about the worlds she has created. Rather, she creates a hollow space within us, a space that needs to be filled. An ache that cannot subside.
And yet for all this otherworldliness, it all seems recognisable. That melancholy, that coma of grief, is something we have all experienced.
There is a poignancy to it all that is exquisitely crafted.
Through the grief come these little moments of happiness that float up to the surface like soap bubbles, then burst, making the loss, the pain more tangible. Making the retreat back into memory, back into that nether world more acceptable, more logical.
The melancholy, the obsession, seem somehow reassuring, as slowly Yoshimoto makes us understand the dangerous comfort that intense grief can sometimes bring with it.
To read these books is to venture into a world that exists in all of us. That “other” space we know so well, but often fear to inhabit. A sad, beautiful, human space, just out of reach, but captured here perfectly.