Hiromi Kawakami’s second book to be translated into English has much in common with her first in its quietness, in its gentleness of bearing, in its bittersweet and often unspoken attitude to the soft cruelties of everyday life. Our narrator and guide is Hitomi, a young woman who is working at the eponymous thrift shop, a place that is home to ‘second hand good (not antiques)’,
“From Japanese-style dining tables to old electric fans, from air conditioners to tableware, the shop was crammed with the kinds of items found in a typical household from the 1960s and later.”
Alongside Hitomi and the proprietor Mr Nakano, there is a young man called Takeo who helps Nakano make the pick-ups (“they would go to clients’ homes to pick up goods they had acquired to sell’) – and, in time, we meet Nakano’s sister, Masayo (an artist given to occasionally holding exhibitions of dolls and suchlike), Nakano’s on-again, off-again antiques dealer girlfriend, Sukiko, and, peripherally, Nasayo’s boyfriend, Maruyama.
As in Strange Weather in Tokyo, each chapter is somewhat episodic, possibly revolving around an object or an incident that then recedes into the background as the next chapter, with it’s corresponding object or incident hoves into view. So, for example, in one chapter Nakano is stabbed by a lady with a letter opener. You might think this would be enough to power a narrative through an entire novel but no, this is just a thing that happens, causes consternation (as you’d expect) and then recedes as Nakano recovers. There is more to the book than these elegant episodes, however, as gradually we start to see a fledgling romance take shape between Hitomi and Takeo, each of whom are odd and private in their own way and each of whom resists the obvious display of affections that might make the slight thing they have into something more. Does the romance build to a thundery climax, lovers exhorting one another in the dark rain to commit to 20 seconds of bravery (apparently all great moments in life hinge on 20 seconds of bravery)? Not really. It doesn’t hurt to know that this is not a book that builds; rather it is a slice of life, not a million miles away, in some respects, from Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year (as long as you switch out a rickety old publishing house for a rickety old thift shop).
You can easily imagine that this book – and Kawakami’s first for that matter – won’t be to everyone’s taste. If your taste inclines more towards thrillers, for example, you’ll be confounded by the pace. “If something doesn’t happen soon I’ll throw this book at the wall,” you might say. Conversely, if you are happy to inhabit this world for a while, happy to be privy to dreams and fancies, tidbits and gossip, the unexpressed and the ineffable, a world that is charming and which unwinds at its own speed and with seeming disregard for whether you want or demand more, then maybe just maybe this might be the book for you.
Any Cop?: If you enjoyed Kawakami’s first book to be translated into English then we suspect you will like this one too. Could there be a dash more drama? Quite possibly. Will we hold that against it? No we will not.