An infuriating protagonist and a vague plot

'A Perfect Day To Be Alone' by Nanae Aoyama is just that — easy to read, quiet and as uneventful as they come, albeit not the most interesting slice-of-life novel to emerge out of Japan.
Last Updated : 30 June 2024, 03:26 IST

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Asra Mavad

Getting yourself out of a reading slump can sometimes be incredibly difficult. At first, 50 pages a day drop to 10; before you know it, it’s been weeks and you haven’t picked up a book. During such times, simple reads with the most basic plots come in handy.

I turn to uneventful Japanese slice-of-life novels to get myself out of such reading slumps. A Perfect Day To Be Alone by Nanae Aoyama is just that — easy to read, quiet and as uneventful as they come, albeit not the most interesting slice-of-life novel to emerge out of Japan. Translated from Japanese by Jesse Kirkwood, the 150-pager follows a year in the life of Chizu Mita, a young woman who moves to Tokyo when her mother has to shift to China for work. Chizu, at the very brink of adulthood, ends up moving in with 71-year-old Gingo Ogino. It is their interactions that make up a majority of the book. Amid the two resident cats and the rattling windows — thanks to the passing trains — they end up forming an unusual alliance. Their interactions are sometimes funny, sometimes painfully awkward, but overall, a curious sense of unease prevails.   This uneasiness can be credited to Chizu’s spiteful nature. It’s fair to say she’s not a very likeable character, for she is often rude and ungrateful. She leaves a trail of spiteful comments in every conversation that she is a part of. Her kleptomania is of no help either.

However, it is understandable where Chizu’s spiteful attitude stems from. After breaking up with her sleazeball of a boyfriend from her hometown, Chizu meets a new man, only to find herself in another unremarkable relationship. She drifts from one part-time job to another without any clear purpose or direction and leads a rather monotonous life. Moving to Tokyo to get her life back together does not seem to be working for her either. As the book progresses, it becomes increasingly hard to sympathise with such a protagonist. It is only towards the end that you begin to empathise with her as she prepares to move on and build a better life for herself. While Aoyama mainly focuses on the angst a young woman harbours while transitioning from a teen to an adult, some of the other plot points in the book that make for an interesting read are the lives of the older women — specifically Chizu’s mother and Ginko. Aoyama does a good job of comparing the lives of the young and the old. The parallels she draws between Ginko and Chizu are fun to explore and Chizu’s mother’s new life in China brings about some compelling observations as well. Overall, this is not a bad book: just one that does not have a lot to offer.

Jimbocho is a monthly column where we sift through popular Japanese books. Often called the ‘town of books’, Jimbocho is a neighbourhood in Tokyo that celebrates Japan’s rich literary heritage. Send your feedback to asra.fathima@deccanherald.co.in

Published 30 June 2024, 03:26 IST

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