Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Publisher: Grove Press
First Published: April 1999
Genres: Contemporary, Paranormal, Queer
In cherished novels such as Kitchen and Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto’s warm, witty, and heartfelt depictions of the lives of young Japanese have earned her international acclaim and bestseller status. Her insightful, spare vision returns in two novellas possessed by the ghosts of love found and lost. In Hardboiled, the unnamed narrator is hiking in the mountains on an anniversary she has forgotten about, the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death. As she nears her hotel—stopping on the way at a hillside shrine and a strange soba shop—a sense of haunting falls over her. Perhaps these eerie events will help her make peace with her loss. Hard Luck is about another young woman, whose sister is dying and lies in a coma. Kuni’s fiancé left her after the accident, but his brother Sakai continues to visit, and the two of them gradually grow closer as they make peace with the impending loss of their loved one. Yoshimoto’s voice is clear, assured, and deeply moving, displaying again why she is one of Japan’s, and the world’s, most beloved writers.
Hardboiled & Hard Luck is a collection of two novellas that share a theme of grief and loss. Both stories read like a gentle goodbye as each narrator explores their feelings through memory. The stories together elicit a warm, comforting feeling despite the heavy subject matter in its sparse prose. It was an easy read to calm my anxieties and unplug while wrapped up in a blanket.
Hardboiled follows the journey of a narrator as she walks along a country road to visit a small village on the anniversary of her ex-girlfriend’s death. She meditates on the circumstances that brought them together, her complicated feelings on their relationship, and how things came to an end. It is a deeply spiritual journey for the narrator tinged with just a little bit of the paranormal, as she reflects on love and the inevitable loneliness that comes with it.
Hard Luck on the other hand, focuses instead on a tragedy in motion, opening with the narrator visiting her dying sister lying in a coma in the hospital. The story showcases a family going through various stages of grief, the gradual loss of hope, and the way that life continues to move despite the shock of loss. There is some hope as the narrator meets the man who would have been her brother-in-law had her sister gotten married; a man who is a little eccentric and takes an interest in the narrator despite the borderline humorously poor timing. Emotionally this was the stronger of the two stories, but together they make a nice collection of stories to soothe the soul.
“She was still there inside me now, just as she always was: a life put on hold, a memory I didn’t know how to handle.”