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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Lake

Kawabata Yasunari

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To purchase The Lake

Title: The Lake
Author: Kawabata Yasunari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1954 (Eng. 1974)
Length: 160 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Lake - US
The Lake - UK
The Lake - Canada
The Lake - India
Le lac - France
Il lago - Italia
  • Japanese title: みづうみ
  • Translated by Reiko Tsukimura

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Our Assessment:

B : odd, rather tortured story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/6/1974 Edmund White
Time . 29/7/1974 Lance Morrow
TLS . 11/3/1977 D.J.Enright

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Lake is often lovely in its diaphanous scenes -- a nighttime ritual of catching fireflies, for example. In this translation, at least, it is also sometimes disagreeable and unsettling." - Lance Morrow, Time

  • "The Lake (1954), in this version at all events, is a pallid production (.....) It has all, or nearly all the weaknesses of modern Japanese fiction and, apart from the account of a firefly-catching, none of the strengths." - D.J.Enright, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       The Lake begins with a long scene describing the protagonist Gimpei's visit to a Turkish bath. The thirty-four year old man is, it turns out, on the run, not entirely sure whether or not he's guilty of a crime. Certainly he carries some guilt with him, as Gimpei occasionally has a blinding compulsion to follow young women -- and:

I want to follow them to the ends of the earth, but I can't. The only way to chase a person that way is to kill them.
       Fortunately, Gimpei is more sad-sack creep that homicidal maniac. He was fired from his teaching position for taking up with a student -- "Hisako Tamaki, the first woman he had ever followed" -- and his current situation is also due to his hobby, as he followed a woman, Miyako Mizuki, and she had hit him with her handbag and then dropped it before running off. Gimpei picked up the handbag -- and found it contained 200,000 yen.
       What might have the makings of a noir thriller instead is a wallow in ambiguity -- with an unsettlingly seedy edge to it. The narrative focuses on Gimpei, but also shifts to Miyako. The money represents what she has done with her life -- she has essentially wasted it as a kept woman -- and its loss is a major financial setback for her, yet she is not completely devastated by it. She also doesn't go to the police, and isn't even sure how to describe her encounter with Gimpei, whether the loss of the handbag was his fault or hers. Gimpei, too, remains in some limbo as to what happened, and how he should react to it.
       Shifting back and forth in time and also describing Gimpei's relationship with his student Hisako, Kawabata offers an odd tale of compulsions, passions, and loneliness. Along the way he's always sure to focus in on ugliness as well: Gimpei is obsessed with his ugly feet, for example, and draws repeated attention to them, and his pick-up line when he first follows Hisako involves claiming he has athlete's foot (which he doesn't). And for all of Gimpei's uncouthness, he's easily overmatched by the direct coarseness of a prostitute that takes an interest in him up.
       Kawabata presents the scenes, from the extended one in the Turkish bath to an evening of firefly-watching, quite well, but this is a sordid tale without quite enough to redeem it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 November 2010

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Reviews: Kawabata Yasunari: Other books by Kawabata Yasunari under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawabata Yasunari (川端 康成) (1899-1972) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968.

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