This is a novel firstly about women. In the recent years we have been talking so much about what it means to be a woman, but we seem to be omitting the important parts, the hidden parts, the uncomfortable parts. The things not usually talked about – openly. About periods, breasts, bodies, sex, eggs (here spoken of in two ways, eggs as a part of a woman and chicken eggs, both brimming with meaning), motherhood and relationships between women family members. Every woman in this book is lacking something, a fact she wished she had known, a feeling she knew was right, a relationship that could be clearer.
This novel consists of two different parts, the first one was published previously as a novella, so that is not surprising. The whole novel has this inconsistency, different parts and chapters, some are more dynamic, some are more, some less interesting, some are short, some are too long, some are more pensive and slow. But in the end it can function as a logical whole.
The first part of the novel is more dedicated to female youthful preoccupations, growing up and that theme is highlighted by the second narrator. There is a mix of the 1st person narration (Natsuko) and her niece’s (Midoriko) diary excerpts that interpolate and make an interesting whole. The second part is more dedicated to female adulthood and motherhood.
The novel deals with how is what we think opposed to what is true. Do we need beautiful breasts and who for, do we have to have a man and enjoy sex at all, do we have to have a child and can we have a child without a father. When we are constantly surrounded with so many things that are given, how can we decide which of those we truly want and which of those we don’t need and want at all.
It is a reflective novel that, as it unravels, opens new problems and preoccupations. It left me with a feeling that if the novel had continued longer we would have found out even more problems we were (maybe) unaware of.
With a beautiful delicacy Kawakami tells us about life, about life today and about life as it always was. Filled with poverty, hardship, insecurities, uncertainty and art. She gives us hope that we can or could, by doing what we believe in, accomplish what we had hoped for. What we feel comfortable with. What works for us as individuals. And that is exactly everything anyone can ever hope for, isn’t it?