In Yoshimoto’s short crystalline narratives, anomalous characters find themselves having to navigate ordinary Japanese society and its expectations
It’s unsurprising, by now, that in Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto’s latest novella, The Premonition, nothing much happens. It’s like this with most of her stories. (Still, the most heartbreaking is her first, Moonlight Shadow, 1986 – about coming to terms with a world in which a soul has to move on without its mate.) But that’s also where a lot of the beauty of her writing lies – in these short crystalline narratives that follow anomalous characters who find themselves having to navigate ordinary Japanese society and its expectations (be a good child, study hard, enter a steady job, marry well, raise a family, rinse and repeat) into which they don’t ever quite fit.
The Premonition’s protagonist is nineteen-year-old Yayoi. She has a loving family, they’ve moved into a newly renovated house, and they’re about to buy a puppy – ‘We were the picture of a happy middle-class family, like in that Spielberg movie.’ But if a Spielberg film is one to measure a family by, then it’s safe to assume that something is amiss. Yayoi discovers that she is missing some of her childhood memories, and, as forewarned by the novella’s title, she has the gift of premonition. This ability lies dormant following a tragedy while Yayoi is very young, save for certain conditions. ‘When I was outdoors, on nights the moon shone especially bright, things often felt unbearable.’ Looking for answers, Yayoi reconnects with her estranged aunt Yukino, and finds that their relationship contains the missing pieces of her life. When Yukino suddenly ups and leaves without a word (a trait that Yayoi shares), Yayoi is accompanied by her brother Tetsuo in her quest to find her aunt and the answers she holds. As truths and revelations are quietly admitted to one another under a dusk-touched tree, their relationship deepens. Yoshimoto has always had this extraordinary ability to convey the ephemeral natures of her main characters in plain yet diaphanous language: ‘she harboured something vast, lost, and familiar, and it was like a siren call to those of us who were missing parts of our childhoods. It was something deeper than night, longer than eternity, out of reach.’ Yoshimoto’s writing could be described the same way.
The Premonition by Banana Yoshimoto. Faber, £12.99 (softcover)