Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto

I have noticed that when I review a novel or novella Yoshimoto I always describe them as being ‘quintessentially’ Yoshimoto. The reason why is that every time I read something by her, I know, without a doubt, that what I am reading is indeed a work of Yoshimoto. Her breezy style and her slice of life storytelling are certainly idiosyncratic. Her narrators do tend to sound very similar to each other—they can be surprisingly cheerful, prone to navel-gazing, and tend to view their surroundings through dream tinted glasses—yet they never fail to capture my attention. Regardless of whether I find what they are saying to be rather banal or baffling, their commentary is often amusing and I enjoy seeing the world through their eyes.

Lizard comprises six short stories, each following a different, yet indelibly Yoshimoto-esque, character. In ‘Newlywed’ a recently married man finds himself not wanting to go home so he stays on the train instead of getting off at his stop. He’s then drawn into a peculiar conversation with an elderly man, who our narrator presumes to be homeless. The man’s ‘ordinary’ appearance belie his true nature, and what follows is a peculiar, and rather surreal, conversation about nothing in particular that nevertheless leaves its mark on our protagonist. In ‘Lizard’ a 29-year-old man is drawn to a woman with the tattoo of a lizard. They both have lived through some extremely traumatic experiences and find kinship in each other (i will say that their ‘pasts’ did seem a wee bit ott). The following story, ‘Helix’, I did not entirely understand. It seems to have no discernible story but two characters who talk about memories (maybe?). In ‘Dreaming of Kimchee’ a woman is having an affair with a married man. When he leaves his wife for her she worries that the maxim ‘Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?’ will prove correct. ‘Blood and Water’ follows a young woman whose parents belong to a cult. She runs away to Tokyo and begins working in a design studio. In the last story, ‘A Strange Tale from Down by the River’, a woman who used to lead quite an active sexual life decides to leave this lifestyle behind once she falls ill. She then begins a relationship with a man who knows nothing about her ‘past’ and becomes worried that he may not want to be with her once he knows of her orgy-filled days.
Written in Yoshimoto’s usual spare yet vibrant prose, these stories repeatedly blur the line between reality and fantasy. Although many of the interactions and discussions that occur within this collection are grounded in realism they are permeated by a subtle sense of the surreal. I did not much care for ‘Lizard’ or ‘Blood and Water’ and ‘Helix’ left no real impression on me but I did enjoy ‘Newlywed’ and ‘Dreaming of Kimchee’. My favourite was probably ‘A Strange Tale from Down by the River’. All in all, I would mostly recommend this collection to readers who are already familiar with Yoshimoto’s work. Her style and brand of quietly weird stories aren’t for everybody. I, for one, find her storytelling oddly comforting and will probably end up making my way through her oeuvre.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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