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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Woman in the Purple Skirt

by
Imamura Natsuko


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Woman in the Purple Skirt



Title: The Woman in the Purple Skirt
Author: Imamura Natsuko
Genre: Novel
Written: 2019 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Woman in the Purple Skirt - US
The Woman in the Purple Skirt - UK
The Woman in the Purple Skirt - Canada
La donna dalla gonna viola - Italia
La mujer de la falda violeta - España
  • Japanese title: むらさきのスカートの女
  • Translated by Lucy North
  • Akutagawa Prize, 2019 (I)

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, psychologically compelling little tale

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 18/3/2021 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Psychological thrillers fans who appreciate subtlety should take a look." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Unsurprisingly, The Woman in the Purple Skirt features a woman who always wears a purple skirt. As quickly becomes obvious, the narrator, who presents herself as 'the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan' and who lives in the same neighborhood as her, is obsessed with her. The Woman in the Purple Skirt can't help but attract attention -- the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan insists: "Nobody could ignore her" -- while:

     Unfortunately, no one knows or cares about the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. That's the difference between her and the Woman in the Purple Skirt.
       The fact that the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan goes so unnoticed works to her advantage, however, allowing her to closely shadow the Woman in the Purple Skirt -- which she does. The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan wants to befriend the Woman in the Purple Skirt but finds herself incapable of doing so: "That's all I can think about. But all that happens is that the days go by".
       The Woman in the Purple Skirt is peculiarly elusive. She moves effortlessly through any crowd, regardless of the attention paid to her, and, as the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan notes, she has a remarkable ability to avoid colliding with anyone; a nice scene has her showing off this special talent, making: "her way, with quick gliding movements, just like an ice-skater, through the crowds". Early on, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan even intentionally tries to bump into her and fails (with further repercussions); later, on a bus, she tries to tweak her nose but doesn't seem to manage even that.
       The contrast is sharp, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan going through life practically invisible, while the Woman in the Purple Skirt is always the center of some attention -- yet also remains just out of grasp. Still, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan manages to manipulate the Woman in the Purple Skirt into coming (closer) into her orbit. Noticing that the Woman in the Purple Skirt frequently switches jobs, she tries to nudge her towards employment at the hotel she works at -- eventually with success. Even here, however, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan remains practically invisible to the Woman in the Purple Skirt.
       The Woman in the Purple Skirt begins an affair with the (married) director at their workplace, with fallout both at work and then outside it. She stops her usual routines and is subject to the gossip of her co-workers, and eventually it comes to a dramatic confrontation; as nearly always, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan manages also to be on the scene. It finally seems to give her an opportunity to connect with the Woman in the Purple Skirt; indeed, she has a future -- immediate as well as presumably longer term -- all mapped out for them. But the Woman in the Purple Skirt remains elusive .....
       The contrast between the two women, and how they are perceived, is striking. Though omnipresent -- it is her account of everything, after all --, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan is mostly just a sort of fly on the wall, her own actions going basically unnoticed, with hardly any real interaction with anyone around her. A late scene where she joins many co-workers visiting the director and then is left alone with him shows just how easily overlooked she is, in almost comic fashion:
     "Director," I suddenly spoke up.
     He gasped audibly. "Oh ! You scared me. How long have you been there, Gondo-san ?"
     "I've been here all along."
     "Oh. Sorry, I didn't notice you. You startled me. Well, take a seat."
       The whole scenario, and especially the way the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan follows the Woman in the Purple Skirt so closely without being noticed, seems unlikely, and there are hints in the novel that there is more to this. The Woman in the Purple Skirt can seem to be a (more -- or less ? -- real) projection of the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan's. Early on, for example, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan says the Woman in the Purple Skirt reminds her of her sister -- though admitting: "Their faces are totally different". In fact, she's long lost touch with her sister, the only mention of what may well have been a shattering trauma being that:
It's been twenty years since my parents divorced and the family broke apart.
       Without any real human connections -- even at work, she seems to pass almost entirely unnoticed -- she sees in the Woman in the Purple Skirt connections from the past, such as her sister, or then also a friend from school, who went back to China with her family shortly before their elementary school graduation. The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan seems desperate to find that some of these connections have held after all this time:
Could it be you ? We lost touch after you returned to China, but ... have you really come back all this way ... to see me ... ?
       And she also wonders:
     If the Woman in the Purple Skirt bears a resemblance to my sister, then maybe that means she is like me ... ? No ?
       It all makes for a reasonable intriguing psychological thriller of sorts, a study of a damaged soul and how she shapes the world around her, and moves in it. Imamura is good with the small details, in presenting both the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan's close observations and the world she, practically invisibly, moves in -- not least in where the focus stays. (She is in considerable financial trouble, for example, but barely describes the mounting difficulties she faces, and the way they change her circumstances.) Things such as the incidental but significant pilfering (and re-selling) of small items from the hotel are well woven into the story.
       It isn't entirely convincing, and some things are left too vague, but mostly The Woman in the Purple Skirt is quite appealing, with just enough disturbing creepiness to it to keep the reader on edge.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2021

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Links:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Imamura Natsuko (今村夏子) was born in 1980.

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© 2021 the complete review

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