Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Kitchen: Cooking up a Character Study or Two

Yoshimoto, Banana. Kitchen. Washington Sqaure, 1994.

Kitchen is a simple book, and one with a plot so casually structured as to provide not so much a story as a character study, and one that is remarkably difficult to wrap into a summary. It begins with a description of the main character's love for kitchens and the stories they tell, and gradually meanders into a description of the several significant events of her young life. Early in the book, protagonist Mikage's grandmother dies, and she is shortly invited to move in with her acquaintance Yuichi and his "mother" (formerly his father) who works in the sex industry. Eventually this arrangement goes sour, but through all the many struggles that she faces as she strives to make a new life for herself in the wake of her grandmother's death, Mikage remains resilient.

This wasn't my favourite novel, but I appreciated the effort that went into making the character likeable and engaging. Mikage isn't really my type of character, and this isn't my favourite type of novel, but nevertheless I found the book intellectually interesting. There are scenes of great charm, and a great deal of passion, and the novel is well written; I simply didn't find it compelling. Yet the character sketch is careful and the book has been written far more precisely than have many novels of our era; I must praise it, if only for its structure. In addition, this book has the remarkable merit of brevity: it provides an afternoon of stimulating intellectual exercise while still permitting an evening of reckless abandon in murder mysteries and other fictitious frivolities. It was my favourite book of the month, but, alas, only because the pickings were otherwise quite slim.

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