A Riot of Goldfish, by Kanoko Okamoto, is a novella that focuses on Mataichi, as he gradually becomes obsessed with a woman, Masako, and goldfish – in equal measures. It is then followed by the novella The Food Demon, which has been translated into English for the first time. Again, this is a story of obsession and art. Both novellas were translated by J. Keith Vincent, who I think has done a fantastic job. I could tell it was a translation, but in a good way, if that makes sense. I could tell that he relished the challenge of translating such simultaneously stark and luxurious prose.
Once again, I’ve realised that I love Japanese prose. It cuts everything down into pure sensation and meaning. In The Food Demon in particular, I could feel myself salivating at the descriptions of succulent dishes (I always love a good description of food in novels, but this was out of this world). They flowed beautifully, with a sort of measured passion that I can’t quite put my finger on. Furthermore, despite their length, both A Riot of Goldfish and The Food Demon were slippery. Meaning and conclusion don’t come easily. And I love that.
However, I didn’t realise until I’d finished the two novellas how old they were – Okamoto died in 1939. If I had realised that sooner, I think I would have read them completely differently. The whole time, I was shocked and annoyed by the casual misogyny from the two male protagonists. Although this isn’t completely excused by the time period, it probably would have made me a bit more relaxed about it.
(Although, this is a debate I’ve had many a time at university – should we attempt to read as people would have in the past, or should we bring modern ethics and standards, and read texts as if they were written today? I’m kind-of in the middle – I like applying modern ideas, but I can understand that times have changed.)
ANYWAY. Although I was put off by the misogynistic attitudes of the protagonists, I found myself drawn into the prose despite myself. Therefore, although the novellas themselves weren’t quite to my taste, I’ve found myself drawn ever-so-slowly into a type of obsession, myself…