12 January 2012

Éric Faye: Nagasaki (2010)

Éric Faye borrowed the basic outline of a story that appeared in several Japanese newspapers in 2008 in order to construct this short novel set in Nagasaki.

Shimura is a 56-year-old meteorology worker with regular, sober habits who can't understand how food and drink can be disappearing from his fridge. He becomes preoccupied with it and installs a webcam in his kitchen to spy on the intruder from the office. Eventually he sees a woman, and on one occasion when he spots her making a cup of tea he phones the police. The police break in and find a 58-year-old woman hiding in the house in a small room – in fact more of a futon cupboard.

Shimura is in for a shock when the police inform him that the unemployed woman has made a duplicate key and been living in the house for nearly a year. There follows a court case as a result of which the woman is imprisoned for five months, and in which Shimura, who finds it very difficult to live in the house any more, nevertheless behaves without malice towards her.

There are three narrators in the book – Shimura, the woman, and a third person who has access to the woman's thoughts. The last two take over the narrative towards the end, when the woman gives an account of the difficulties and the joys she received living in clandestinity, and when the third person narrator describes her leaving prison, seeing with distress that the now empty house is for sale, and visiting it with the estate agent.

The woman – who, like Shimura, has no romantic interest in the other – had intended to see Shimura after release, and is even surprised that he didn't visit her in prison. The estate agent allows her to write to him through the agency, but the long, intelligent – even philosophical – letter of explanation is a little different from her police statement. A very interesting story.

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