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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Record of a Night too Brief

Kawakami Hiromi

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To purchase Record of a Night too Brief

Title: Record of a Night too Brief
Author: Kawakami Hiromi
Genre: Stories
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 158 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Record of a Night too Brief - US
Record of a Night too Brief - UK
Record of a Night too Brief - Canada
  • Japanese title: 蛇を踏む
  • Translated by Lucy North

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Our Assessment:

B : vivid and creative tales

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 27/5/2017 Damian Flanagan
SCMP . 9/2/2017 James Kidd

  From the Reviews:
  • "The quality of the stories in Record of a Night Too Brief steadily improves as Kawakami moves away from simple dream narratives and experiments with psychology and magic realism instead. (...) Kawakami might not be operating on the same intellectual parnassus as Soseki and Kuroswawa, but she is able to give entertaining takes -- filled with dream-like insight -- on the peculiarities of modern life, fusing both South American-style magical realism with the folklore concepts of being spirited away and snake-human transformations." - Damian Flanagan, The Japan Times

  • "At once funny and humane, the authorís estranging fiction is bewitching. If Japan were in need of a Lewis Carroll, look no further." - James Kidd, South China Morning Post

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:

       Record of a Night too Brief collects three stories, the last of which -- 'A Snake Stepped On' -- both won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize (one of the leading Japanese literary prizes) and was the title used when this collection was first published in Japanese. The English translation takes its title from the first of the stories; like the others, this one features surreal physical distortions beginning with the night literally "nibbling into" the narrator.
       The story 'Record of a Night too Brief' is itself divided into nineteen short, titled chapters -- steps and stages through a transformative night, the second already promising: 'Chaos'. It's a story of surreal encounters, exchanges, and changes: time flows unevenly, while physical form -- personal and otherwise -- is transformed. The narrator pours coffee -- only to find she is pouring night; a fire consumes her "so completely that not even our bones were left" (yet she can immediately complain: "'Why do you do such things ?' I asked angrily"). It's a creative trip, wildly imagined, with an effective contrast of everyday reaction to the completely absurd. It is certainly action-packed -- but practically loses itself in it's own rapid-flow adventures.
       The middle story, 'Missing', is set in a somewhat more stable world, closer to our own -- yet also with some striking differences. The narrator is a young woman in a family, with two older brothers; among the oddities of this world or society is that traditionally families live together in groups of five -- one leaving whenever a new member is added. It's not a hard and fast rule, but in her family it's still the case.
       The story begins with her eldest brother going missing -- simply vanishing into thin air, more or less. It's not entirely surprising: there's a family history of people (and objects) going missing. And sometimes reappearing. And even though the brother is gone, he's sometimes back as a 'presence':

     My brother no. 1's presence would come and go; at times it was intense, at times quite faint. Of everyone in the family, I was the one who was most sensitive to it.
       The brother disappeared just before he was to get married, but his younger brother eventually takes his place, courting and then marrying Hiroko -- whose family also a has a history of unusual physical transformation .....
       Kawakami offers a world that is in many respects familiar, but unusual in a number of striking ways, including the long-established customs that families follow. It's an enjoyably odd world and story.
       The final story is narrated by Hiwako Sanada, who works in a small shop run by Mr Kosuga and his wife, Nishiko. It begins when she steps on a snake on her way to work -- an act that transforms the snake into a human being -- and:
     "Well, you stepped on me," the human being announced, "so now I don't have a choice."
       The snake/woman walks off -- but Hiwako finds her (and a big meal) waiting for her when she gets home. The snake/woman insinuates herself into Hiwako's life -- and settles into her apartment, alternating between human and snake form. As Hiwako learns, this behavior isn't entirely unusual: Nishiko also has a snake in her life.
       The snakes try to seduce those they've attached themselves to to cross over into their world, but both Nishiko and Hiwako are leery. In this story, especially, the contrast of our everyday world and life and this unusual, super-natural aspect -- treated more less like just another thing to deal with (though admittedly somewhat extraordinary) -- is especially effective.
       These are fine, colorful stories, and Record of a Night too Brief an agreeably bizarre collection. One gets the sense of a young(er) writer still exploring craft and imagination -- and Kawakami's later work is notably more settled and realist -- but they're quite fun and accomplished.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 January 2018

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Record of a Night too Brief: Reviews: Other books by Kawakami Hiromi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawakami Hiromi (川上 弘美) was born in 1958.

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© 2018-2023 the complete review

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