REVIEW by Dan Bradley

NWR Issue 105

The Hunting Gun

by Yasushi Inoue

An astonishing debut from one of Japan’s most prolific and respected authors is, at once, a haunting story of love and loneliness and a meditation on how we reach out through writing.

A tragic affair is witnessed through three letters by three women; a lover, her daughter and the betrayed wife. Young Shoko discovers the affair by reading her mothers diary, Midori is the wife who has always known but never told, and Saiko is the beautiful divorcee who has decieved her best friend.

Yasushi Inoue worked as a journalist and literary editor before turning to fiction in his early 40s. Between the publication of The Hunting Gun in 1949 and his death in 1991, he produced an incredible fifty novels and over one hundred and fifty short stories, for which he received both the Akutagawa Prize and the Order of Culture, the highest honour granted for artistic merit in Japan. The author confesses in the preface that The Hunting Gun was the work of an ‘adolescent’ writer. These insecurities and concerns are certainly foregrounded in each character’s obsession with writing and rewriting moments or with individual words like ‘Sin’, ‘Death’ and ‘Love’. As the opening letter from the hunter tells us:

We humans are, in the end, stupid creatures who cannot help desiring that someone know us as we are. I have never felt such a yearning, but now that I know that you are out there, and know of the special interest you have so kindly taken in me, I would like you to know everything.


This plaintive request reflects not only the hunter’s desire to be understood, but also every character we meet. Indeed, our narrator is a poet and writer, and each of the women uses diaries, letters or poetry in an attempt to capture, express and share their experiences. However, the lightness of touch, structural complexity and psychological insight in the work demonstrate both mastery and maturity. The characters are only ever seen through others’ eyes and letters, glimpsed in mirrors or from behind when they don’t realise they are being watched, and often carry a burden like the hunting rifle or the implied burden of suffering in the large image of a thistle woven into the back of Midori’s kimono. And it is the skill of the author, and Michael Emmerich’s fresh and lively translation containing flourishes of genuinely beautiful prose, that brings to life the voices of the young Shoko, the betrayed wife Midori and the guilty Saiko.

The changing symbolism of the hunting gun, refracted through each letter as death, recrimination, violence or duality, encapsulates the shifting centre of the novella which, at its core, is about the solitary individual experience of tragedy. Inoue focusses on this inner life but creates a compelling sense of place with a light impressionistic style rooted in the natural world. For example, Shoko explains how ‘the bark of the crape myrtle, bamboo leaves rustling in the wind, and the water and the stones and the earth, all of nature, all I see, takes on this sad colouring the second I open my mouth to speak.’ Apart from a few incidental historical details, the setting and prose feel simultaneously old-fashioned and outside of time. Its anxiously self-conscious narrator and story constructed from subjective written accounts could even suggest early modernist writings like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Perhaps it is this timelessness, grounded in psychological experience and insight rather than 1940s language or detail, that has helped Inoue’s enduring success in Japan and encouraged Pushkin Press to translate and release both The Hunting Gun and Bullfight.

Epistolary novels often struggle to deliver realism and immediacy. There is the challenge of introducing information in a natural way and creating tension with material written by the characters long after the moment has passed. But here the restraint and emotional distance of the epistolary form deepens the sense of sadness, isolation and longing. We realise, as we read, that these heartfelt thoughts were never shared in person and never spoken. As Saiko confesses to the hunter in the novella’s final letter, ‘While I was alive I never once let you see me as I truly am. Now, writing this, I am the real me. Or rather, this me, the one writing, is the only one that is real. Yes, this is real....’

Dan Bradley is writer and translator living in Port Talbot.


Buy this book at gwales.com



       


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