A slow appetiser

The Restaurant of Love Regained
Ito Ogawa, translated by David Karashima
Bloomsbury2014,
pp 193
Rs 299

For a change, here is a lady of our times writing of  love’s longings lost, I mused as I gazed at the revelatory back of the girl on the cover. Like anyone of us, she boils some water for tea “to take my mind off things.” No horrors, no violence, no scientific or technological terror. But then...

This is one novel in recent times that I have repeatedly returned to through one whole week. I never knew a novel could be such an excellent valium tablet, and you do not need a medical prescription either to get it. A few pages listening to Grandpa Owl through Rinko’s musings or watching Mistress nibble the slice of pickled apple, you get enveloped by the comfortable embrace of Greek god Hypnos. No passenger train in India can move slower than this adventure to regain love.

Ito Ogawa begins well enough. The very first page is how the heroine’s Indian boyfriend has jilted her and stolen every blessed thing in their flat, including the entrance mat. A somewhat wrong note to hear in the cooings of Hindi-Jap bhai-bhai these days. Why did she not say a Turkish boyfriend jilted her when she was actually working in a Turkish restaurant? I guess in the spaceship of creativity such questions have no relevance.Back to Rinko, the heroine. She gets back to her village after 10 years. The bus journey would put a snail to shame. As for the style, it is obvious Ito shies away from explicit sex, but finds a rare freedom in painting blotches of giggly titillation.

 “Funnily enough, the first thing I noticed was my mother’s breasts. She wasn’t wearing a bra and they were clearly visible through the thin material of her teddy. But after all these years, they were still great breasts. Just like those famous Twin peaks I’d seen from the road.”

Some daughter this. I am no stranger to Japanese fiction. Even as a teenager, I was fascinated by The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki. For me, Japan has been the land of Kabuki theatre, the Geisha, the tea ceremony and Ikebana. Japanese fiction may be dealing with the Hiroshima scenario, but filial love and a certain reverence for tradition have never been absent from it. Or so I thought till Ito reminded me that I am very much in the twenty-first century!

To help the absent-minded reader, here is the story line. Rinko returns to her village and sets up her own restaurant in her mother’s property with the help of Kuma, who had been a school teacher. This is a special restaurant and caters to one couple at a time. Ito does not deal with mundane things like income and expenditure, though. There are more interesting things in life, surely! “My customers for Christmas were a gay couple who had eloped to the village.

The two men were now on their secret honeymoon...” To add to it all, Rinko has lost her voice (or thinks she has) and her mother’s lifeway give us further hiccups. You can come back to The Restaurant of Love... at any time and open any page, there will be something for you to snort or sizzle or simply curl back to sleep. The officers of the Department of Sanitary Control give a couple of pages and information about roasted newts. What is that? Go to page 90.

As we swim in this food-lum of sangetan soup and dokudami tea, we learn that Rinko’s mother had impregnated herself by gathering a man’s sperm in her water-pistol. “I think he was married. He had a ring on his ring finger. That’s why your name is Rinko. Rin for furin as in affair. So Rinko basically means love child.”

Some revelatory momma this! Nothing fails like excess. Exotica in food and morals is bearable, but when it is decided that momma will marry Shuichi, enough is enough for the reader. For the mother wants her pet Hermes killed for the wedding feast; elegant cooking becomes now the regal making of blood sausages.

“To me, the meat smelt like a deep forest, with hints of nuts, leaves and soil. The thought of Hermes made me sigh and I decided to boil some water for tea to take my mind off things.” Certainly she is not like us. The Restaurant of Love Regained is just tiresome; a dreamy interminate drone.

What beats me is Ito’s biodata. She is the author of children’s books. Hope they do not have umbilical cords in kitchen freezers. Or grandpas who think grandmas are actually their mothers.

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