'Lizard' by Banana Yoshimoto

'Lizard' by Banana Yoshimoto was a spur-of-the-moment buy due to its slim volume and flashy neon cover, and I read it in a single evening in a cafe. It's six short stories, plus two afterwords, published in the original Japanese in 1993 and translated into English in 1995.

Out of the six stories - 'Newlywed', 'Lizard', 'Helix', 'Dreaming of Kimchee', 'Blood and Water' and 'A Strange Tale from Down by the River' - 'Newlywed' was my favourite. In it, a tramp turns into a beautiful woman next to a drunk male newlywed on the train late at night, after the man shows him the kindness of not moving away from him when he sits down; a little like a depressing, grown-up version of the beginning of Disney's 'The Beauty and the Beast'. They, the man and the beautiful woman/tramp, talk about why he might not want to go home and why he might: his wife has so quickly spun such a perfect web of domesticity that he is unnerved and a little repulsed by it, as well as being in awe of her and grateful. He finds her slightly unknowable and bemusing, and he finds her a little intimidating too, I think.

Thankfully, he chooses his wife over the other ever-present routes that the beautiful woman/tramp represents - as the tramp says to him, he could just not get off the train - by going home to her even though she is freaking him out; I felt really bad for the wife, as she really hasn't done anything wrong. This story was neat, compelling and sober, I thought, and kinda spot-on about the adjustments and anxieties that accompany settling down, domesticity and marriage.

The other stories were good, covering a lot of the same themes. 'Lizard' also deals with the past and violence, 'A Strange Tale from Down by the River' talks about the changes that accompany motherhood. The others....have kinda merged into one in my head. 

Yoshimoto tells these stories in a sparse, slightly trippy way that resembles a lot of other modern Japanese fiction, and utilises a lot of the features both of it and modern representations of Japanese life: as in, she stays on the surface of characters, rendering them rather unknowable, close individuals and even lovers are completely alienated from one another, and memory and family are dangerous, confusing things. Unfortunately, I experienced very little emotional engagement, which is why the stories probably now escape me. Also, apart from the emotional and psychological revelations, very little happens.

This were nice stories, and I'd pick up a book of hers again, but ultimately I found them a little shallow and forgettable.

Title: Lizard
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Date: 1995
Format: Paperback, 180 pages, and I bought it.



  1. I've not read much Japanese fiction at all. I like the sound of this, short stories are a good way of trying out a new author.

    1. Absolutely. From what I've read, 'Kitchen' is her most representative and best collection, so maybe that's something to find.

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