Earlier this month Kodansha, one of Japan’s largest and most prestigious publishers, released The Line, Retsu, a provocative new novel by the award-winning Fuminori Nakamura in tanko-bon (hardback) format. The Line, published on 5 October from an author known for fast-paced narratives that blend physiological suspense and literary fiction, has instantly generated considerable media interest across Japan and calls from readers for a sequel.
Interviews with the author and a succession of impressive reviews of this relatively short novel at 166-pages (many of Nakamura’s novels are around three times the length) have featured in a host of Japan’s most important publications, including magazines and national newspapers such as the Yomiuri and Nikkei.
Lines be those rendered, vertically or horizontally in Japanese or English, on the printed pages of a novel, in a newspaper, magazine, academic paper, a book review, or a graduation thesis, or even an eBook, may appear arranged in an orderly and predictable manner. However, the lines that dominate our contemporary lives and most modern societies, or as readers will discover the narrative arc of a twisting tale by Nakamura, narratives often cunningly replete with the strategic withholding of information, are far from predictable.
Everyone must queue for something. People join lines because they are there. Not knowing what they are waiting for. We are trained to wait, postponing gratification. It is the journey that counts, getting there. We are told to wait our turn. Some lines have openings, others not. Some move quickly, others are frustratingly slow. There are, of course, individuals who adopt, peddle and develop strategies to get ahead hoping jump the queues. But what actually awaits us at the end of the line? These are the questions that Nakamura explores in his new thought-provoking work, which some readers are devouring in single sessions, according to their online posts.
Lines and all that they represent are, Nakamura believes, a symbol of modern society. They expose us to the gaze of others; instill frustration; give us at times a deluded sense of progress; generate jealously, animal spirits and competition. Often for no apparent reason. Many are crowded and stretch far ahead, and have no discernable purpose. These are apparently, universal behaviours and sentiments that Nakamura brilliantly blends with research into macaque monkey behaviour, in zoos and in the wild, into a gripping novel that compares and contrasts the animal world and its behaviours with our own.
The main character in The Line, an animal behaviour researcher, who like most is standing in line even though he doesn’t know it, loses his position at his institute to a younger individual advancing more quickly. His love life doesn’t progress to plan either. Fleeing into fantasy is, of course, an option, but that too can lead to a Kafka-like decent, putting an individual on an inescapable fateful gradient. In The Line, Nakamura encourages readers to stop and think, as they consider what lies ahead, not just in his beautifully crafted narrative but within the seemingly inevitable trajectories of modern existence.
A series of data points in succession can often imply a trend, a line of sorts, and in addition to the rave reviews The Line is receiving in Japan, Nakamura has other important news on the publishing front. In September, for instance, a bunko (paperback) edition of Kaado-Shi, The Card Shark, a 528-page novel originally serialised in the Asahi Shimbun, a major national newspaper, was released by the newspaper’s publishing house.
And earlier this year in May, the Penguin Random House imprint Soho Crime published an English translation edition (translated into English by Sam Brett) of Nakamura’s Sono saki no michini kieru, under the title The Rope Artist. A complex twisting whodunnit, originally published to critical acclaim in Japanese in 2018, about the death of a bondage ‘rope-master’ a work that the Wall Street Journal has described as “an unusual police procedural that takes a deep dive into the sordid world of BDSM.”
Nakamura it would seem is destined to continue to carve out his own unusual and highly memorable line in the world of Japanese letters and beyond. Leaving many of his devoted fans eagerly awaiting his next tale, whether published in Japanese, English, German, French, Turkish, Thai or Korean.
- About Red Circle:Red Circle Authors Limited is a specialist publishing and communications company that conducts bespoke projects on behalf of a carefully selected and curated group of leading Japanese authors. Red Circle showcases Japan’s best creative writing. For more information on Red Circle, Japanese literature, and Red Circle authors please visit: www.redcircleauthors.com.