With clarity Banana Yoshimoto conveys the grief experienced by her characters. In Kitchen, Mikage, an orphan, finds herself alone after the death of her grandmother. Mikage, unable to bear another loss, attempts to withdraw from the outside world. A son and his mother become her unlikely companions and while she stays with them she begins to slowly return to herself.
Yoshimoto captures the emptiness, sorrow, and sadness experienced by Mikage in a deceptively simple way. And Mikage’s grief and depression feel all the more real because of it. While many of Mikage’s observations or realizations are not particularly innovative or complex, I found her voice engaging and her inner-monologue breezy.
Yoshimoto manages to imbue ordinary objects and places (ie. a kitchen) with incredible feeling. By paying attention to small details (such as the way that sunlight shines through a glass) Yoshimoto brings to life seemingly mundane moments. Her clear and sparse writing style really lends itself to the depiction of Mikage’s grief. In her estrangement from her daily life, Mikage is empowered by small or normal things (such as kitchen utensils and or a beautiful dish).
Overall, Kitchen was a really good novella. I sympathized with Mikage and I understood the numbness that overwhelms her. The few interactions she has with other people were really lovely, and of course, her relationship with Yoichi and Eriko was incredibly sweet. And with time, Mikage does eventually find some sort of solace.
“Moonlight Shadow” lacked the realism of Kitchen. It was much shorter and, since I read it immediately after Kitchen, I couldn’t help comparing the two. Kitchen packs so much more feeling and character. “Moonlight Shadow” might also deal with grief but it does it in a far more rushed and predictable manner.
All in all Kitchen and “Moonlight Shadow” have all the classic Yoshimoto traits: a naive & zesty female narrator, unadorned prose, slice of life scenarios, and a quiet yet affecting exploration of grief and loneliness.
my rating: ★★★½
(4 stars to Kitchen, 3 stars to “Moonlight Shadow”)