One of the things I find with Japanese fiction is that it can often be, shall we say, ‘quirky’. Murakami is probably the best, most obvious proponent of the fantastic view on reality. Yu Miri’s “Tokyo Ueno Station” doesn’t try and be surreal in the same kind of way, but I couldn’t help compare it with other Japanese novels I have read (in translation, obviously!) and for me it doesn’t quite come up to the mark. [But read this review to the last paragraph, please!]
The plot, the story being told, is solid enough and worth telling, and I have every reason to believe that the translation is a good one (when the book flows, it flows well). The difficulty comes in two areas. The first is the sequencing of the telling, which jumps around too much for my liking. The narrative being split between ‘present’ and episodes form the past is common enough, but I found myself occasionally lost as to where I was supposed to be. The second challenge comes where Yu Miri tries to weave parallel views on the same slice of time into the story. It’s a little like looking into a fractured mirror to get a picture of what’s going on – and sometimes the mirror is simply too broken.
Having said all of that, however, there are parts of the book I really like, and the whole premise, the theme behind the story – of loss, isolation, abandonment etc. – is worth telling, and Yu Miri’s perspective is an interesting one. In the end, perhaps I felt the book was trying to be a little too structurally sophisticated in the telling.
So having spent the best part of this review putting people off “Tokyo Ueno Station” I don’t want to do so. If you like quirky fiction – and perhaps Japanese fiction in particular – then there’s certainly enough of merit in here for you to give the book a try.