(Book Talk) Mieko Kawakami @Foyles, London – 1st June 2022

by Miki
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I had such a wonderful time at Foyles hearing Mieko Kawakami speaking in person. I’ve been thinking a lot about what she mentioned during the talk, so let me share what I thought about her comments. Just a little note: I was listening more in Japanese, rather than to the English interpretation so I might phrase her comments slightly differently to how they were translated on the night. Likewise, I didn’t take notes, so don’t take any of the below literally!


I found her comments about her writing particularly interesting. In order to write a great story, the most important message that the author wants to convey shouldn’t be in the book, Mieko mentioned.


She said she really thinks over and over about how to create a whole world. Even the tiny details have some meaning that she secretly wants to tell. She pointed out the scene from her book where the female protagonist starts listing the books on her bookshelf. They were intentionally all male authors to express how the world of literature is dominated by men, and that for many Japanese readers, the path to reach someone like Virginia Woolf is incredibly lengthy.


She also explained this dynamic with an example of her being a judge for a book competition in Japan. Some authors write their central message too clearly within the text – especially at the very end – which does not necessarily create a beautiful story, she said.


This comment made me think a lot about the differences between English literature and Japanese literature. I have heard from many English readers that they ‘didn’t get the point’ and that ‘the ending is weak’ when they read Japanese literature. I think Japanese literature prefers to be open ended and allows the readers to come to their own conclusions regarding the ending. The story is immersive rather than plot-centric, while English literature tends to have a more clear ending with a solid plotline. Could this perhaps be caused by a difference in literary aesthetic? 


Mieko also touched a little on her feelings of responsibility as a writer and that it’s very important to think about both the purpose and eligibility of the writer in telling a story. She talked about the reaction by her readers toward the brutal bullying scenes in ‘Heaven’, saying she believes that everything written in the story is something actually happening in Japan. And yet, despite the strong brutality of these scenes, they are not without some element of humour. She said it comes from her Osaka nature! 


All The Lovers In The Night is my favourite book by Mieko. The comment she raised about the protagonist Fuyuko really captured why I really sympathise with this book so much, despite the fact that Fuyuko is such an introverted and subtle character; completely the opposite to my usual tastes (I much prefer strong characters normally!). As Mieko mentioned, everyone has a bit of Fuyuko in them, so no matter what, her character will stay with people.


With meticulous planning and attention to detail, Mieko not only intelligently expresses the message that she wants to write about, but also believes that it is something worth telling. Knowing this, I appreciate her stories all the more. 


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