Thursday, November 07, 2013

Japanese Madness

Over the last week my reading has been entirely in the electronic age.  First I downloaded an audiobook called A Tale for the Time Being, written and read by Cynthia Ozeki, who is a Buddhist monk.  This was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year and I am enjoying it very much.  A novelist called Ruth, living on an island off the coast of British Columbia, comes across a plastic bag containing a teenager's diary on the beach.  The novelist seems to be suffering from some sort of writer's block - and I  assume that this part is semi-autobiographical.

The teenager is a Japanese girl who has recently been forced to return to Japan after living happily in California.  The humiliation due to their change in circumstance causes the father to become mentally ill, and the teenager to suffer too.  Both voices are strong and convincing - and it is read very well too.   

I have continued the theme of mental illness in Japan by reading another book by a Japanese American: A Disability of the Soul:An Ethnography of Schizophrenia and Mental Illness in Japan by Karen Nakamura.   The book describes a famous Christian community project called Bethel in the north-west of Japan.   After a brief summary of the recent history of mentally ill patients in Japan, the book describes the life and times of the various people involved in the project.   It is engagingly written, and includes not only brief biographical studies of patients and staff, but is also supported by a couple of films made by the author.  These are available on-line via a code provided when linking from the Kindle version of the book.  This worked well, and I was much impressed that I could view all these within a minute or so of downloading on my Kindle. 

As I read, I kept remembering Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood.  There is the same sense of isolation, coldness and alienation - although the characters in the Murakami  book seem to be in-patients in a private mental asylum.  

The final book I'm reading I also immediately downloaded onto my Kindle after reading a recommendation of the book on John Self's Asylum blog.  A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride is written entirely in the stream of consciousness style.  I like the chaotic thoughts tumbling over each other.   In order to read this sort of book, I think it is best to not try too hard to understand but let the words do their work more subliminally.  

Although set in Ireland A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing seems to go perfectly with my reading on Japanese mental health.  Although in comparison with the narrator of this novel, the explanations of the voices that the patients hear, seems comparatively sensible.


Blogger jem said...

I read the Ozeki as part of my Booker reading this summer. I really liked it - and thought it was trying to do something different and quirky, but not letting quality writing slip in the process (which sadly sometimes happens.

Wed Nov 20, 09:46:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I agree, Jem - a very good book. I learnt a lot, and enjoyed it too. Not quite as keen on the quantum mechanical bit - but that was a small niggle.

Wed Nov 20, 08:48:00 pm  

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