Review: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Michael Emmerich)

I ‘ve had my eye on The Lake by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto for a while and it didn’t disappoint. I sat down on a sunny afternoon and ended up reading it in one go; testament to its addictive nature and the fact that it’s the sort of story that, personally, I benefit from really immersing myself in.

The Lake Banana Yoshimoto book review

Opening sentence: The first time Nakajima stayed over, I dreamed of my dead mom.

Banana is the pen name of Mahoko Yoshimoto; she named herself after the banana flower (that looks a little like this) as she was drawn to the name’s androgynous quality and, she liked the flower. The Lake is her 13th novel, although many of her works are not yet translated into English.

So what’s the story?

The Lake is a nuanced, delicate and captivating exploration of a fragile relationship between Chihiro and Nakajima. Narrated by Chihiro, she is a young woman grieving the death of her mother. We follow her as she tries to work out who she now is without her mother in her life and discover if her fledgling career as an artist is really what she wants to do.

Primarily though, it is about the complex relationship she is in with an intriguing man called Nakajima. His past trauma plays a big part in the story and the way this is revealed is perfectly paced. The way the tiniest emotions are portrayed are wonderful to read, despite the fact each character is carrying a lot of anguish.

The feeling that every little thing we said, these conversations, at any moment they could stop being possible, and so they were precious, it was that feeling, and the sense of the miracle of this shared moment, here and now.

The theme of brainwashing is explored too – in a literal and subtle sense. How much we go along with things just because we think we should, rather than doing things we actually want to do.

Immerse yourself in The Lake

This was a haunting, highly emotive tale with such a lyrical rhythm running through the words that I was effortlessly carried into the story. Despite its tough subject matter, this a story of hope and there were such interesting, insightful little nuggets about human nature that really made you think.

He lived knowing that he had already experienced perfection; that, no doubt, was what gave him a certain aura of sadness, and a sense of flexibility.

You know when you read a story and it leaves a residue? The characters take a little while to leave your brain and you can’t help but let your mind wonder about what they’re doing now? That’s what happens here and that’s the mark of a powerful storyteller. This was my first book by Banana Yoshimoto but definitely won’t be my last.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

8 thoughts

  1. Kitchen , her debut novel, is meant to be excellent but I haven’t read that yet. If you liked the way she dealt with relationships in The Lake, I’d recommend Goodbye Tsugumi which is about a reunion of two friends.

    Liked by 1 person

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