Last week I reviewed Yasushi Inoue’s “Bullfight”, a story from 1949 and a wonderful introduction for me to Inoue’s work. This week we have “The Hunting Gun”, another new release from Pushkin Press, and as I mentioned last week, a beautifully presented book. Typeset in Monotype Baskerville, litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow. The covers, with French flaps, are printed on Colorplan Pristine White Paper and both the paper and the cover board are acid-free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. A long winded way of saying they are joys to hold and read.
I had recently been led to feel a certain poetic interest in hunting guns and their relationship to the solitude of the human condition.
Our story opens with our narrator telling the tale of a short poem he has written for inclusion in “The Hunter’s Friend” a “floppy little magazine put out by the Japan Hunters’ Club.” As a result of his publication he receives correspondence from Misugi Josuke, who believes the poem was written directly to him. He then sends on three letters from women explaining his tale. Our story is made up of these three letters. We open with Shoko’s letter, a daughter who is writing to her uncle after her mother’s funeral. She is explaining the secrets her mother held and the secrets she now holds after reading her mother’s diary:
I can’t even imagine how awful it would have been if I’d really had to say those words. I probably couldn’t have got a single word out, no matter how hard I tried to stay calm. I was only able to do it because this is a letter. Not because I’m shocked, or scared. I just feel sad. So sad my tongue goes numb. Not sad about you, or about Mother, or myself. It’s everything, all around me – the blue sky, the October sunlight, 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 moth to speak. Ever since I read Mother’s diary, I’ve started noticing that maybe two or three times a day, or sometimes even five or six, the whole natural world, everything around me, is suddenly awash with a sad colour, as if the sun is setting. All I have to do is remember you and Mother and my world is completely transformed. Did you know, Uncle, that in addition to the thirty or so colours such as red and blue that you find in a paintbox, there is a separate sad colour, and that this sad colour is something you can really see?
We then move to Midori’s letter. Midori is Misugi Josuke’s wife, who has known about her husband’s affair with Shoko’s mother for years, and she is finally revealing all her dislike for her husband:
You were staring at Yi-dynasty porcelain or some such thing, waiting to see which of you would blink first, and I was unwilling to disturb your peace – or rather, I knew of no means by which I could possibly disturb it, much as I may have liked to..
Such distressing transactions we humans make! Our whole life together was erected upon the foundation of secrets each of us kept from the other.
Finally we have Saiko’s letter (posthumous), this is Misugi Josuke’s lover’s letter sent to him after she has died, explaining what love is to her, to love, to be loved…
I made up my mind to die after I’d given my diary to Shoko. In any event, I told myself, the time has come for me to die. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, in this instance, not that I had made up my mind to die, but that I lacked the energy to live any longer.
I have purposely kept this review brief, as this is a brief read (the Pushkin Press edition running to 103 pages) and I did not want to quote large passages spoiling the theme and mood of each letter. If post-war Japanese literature is your thing, I can’t recommend this (and “Bullfight”) highly enough, an entrance into the stunning literary world of Yasushi Inoue.
This is a beautiful tale of love, fatal love, of mourning, of jealousy, of deceit and of what it is to live. Through three simple letters we see the breadth of Saiko and Misugi’s love for each other, we feel the pain of Shoko’s loss, we understand Midori’s anguish and we enter the world of despair brought about by unbridled joy. A connection with nature, but the destruction thereof by a hunter’s gun, this is another classic post-war story which is uniquely Japanese. Another classic tale from Yasushi Inoue, one that I am pleased Pushkin Press has brought to life. I must admit I have been trawling the internet looking for further translations of his work, given he has over 50 novels and 150 short stories to his name I thought there would be more works available in English. From “Bullfight” to “The Hunting Gun” I am now hooked on Yasushi Inoue’s work, and am hoping that more independent publishers bring his stories to the English reading world. Next up is “Life of a Counterfeiter”, also from Pushkin Press, a publication which contains three stories. I should be back with a review of that work early next week.
A man’s lies can sometimes elevate a woman, you know, to the very level of the divine.