Chihiro, a painter of murals, tells the story of The Lake. Her late mother was the owner and ‘mama-san’ of a club and her father is of some prominence in their small rural town. The book opens with her mother’s hospitalisation and death, which leaves Chihiro feeling lost and distanced and eventually she moves to Tokyo, where she meets Nakajima, who lives in the building diagonally across. She finds herself attracted to him.
There’s a tenacity in him that’s beyond all that. The intensity of a person unafraid of death, at the end of his rope.
Maybe that’s how I knew we would get along.
Yes there is an actual lake in this book.
“The water was so still you almost felt like it would absorb any sounds that reached it. The surface might have been a mirror. Then a wind blew up and sent small waves drifting across it. The only sound was the chirping of birds that whirled around us, high and low.”
Nakajima and Chihiro travel several hours to get to it, to a little shack by the lake that Nakajima and his mother used to live in, and which is now the home of Mino and Chii, siblings who make their living as clairvoyants. That is, Mino voices what the bedridden Chii ‘sees’. Mino also makes the most delicious tea, from spring water.
“The tea, made from leaves with a subtly smoky aroma, was so good I could feel my senses sharpening. It had a sweetness to it, and at the end of each sip I’d catch a whiff of fruit.”
And this is that kind of book that is to be read with a pot of steaming tea (lapsang souchong perhaps?) next to you – and I suppose if you have a view of a lake, that would be helpful. Because this is story that gradually awakens.
I made the mistake of glancing at an interview with Banana Yoshimoto about The Lake which revealed more than I cared to know (at the point of my reading progress). The Goodreads description also reveals just a little too much about the story. So hopefully I’ve managed not to, and if you are interested in reading this book, just jump right in and read it, without reading too much about it! Because Yoshimoto (and her translator) has written a book that seems, at first glance, simple, direct. But there is so much more beneath.
“But sometimes we encounter people like Nakajima who compel us to remember it all. He doesn’t have to say or do anything in particular; just looking at him, you find yourself face-to-face with the enormousness of the world as a whole. Because he doesn’t try to live in just a part of it. Because he doesn’t avert his gaze.
He makes me feel like I’ve suddenly awakened, and I want to go on watching him forever. That, I think, is what it is. I’m awed by his terrible depths.”
Title: The Lake
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Translated by: Michael Emmerich
Originally published in 2005