A TASTE FOR OBLIVION
While our main site has the decorators in, Hillary Raphael reviews Hitomi Kanehara's debut novel here:
Hitomi Kanehara, Snakes and Earrings, Vintage, London
Nihilism, starvation, and pain are one's only friends in the vapid land of plenty that is today's Tokyo. Or so seems to say Lui, the complacently masochistic waif who is both the narrator and the throbbing swollen center of Hitomi Kanehara's bullet-like first novel. Hypnotic, beseeching, and refreshingly devoid of suspense, the slim volume asks the reader to quit acting like such a consumeristic voyeur and to sink into the pleasures of Being.
In a world where surfaces are not only more important than interiors, but substitute them, (hair, face, and outfit being the Japanese soul) the three body modifiers who are the only real characters -- cops, parents, and doctors make only fleeting ineffectual appearances -- are at once deeply subversive and profoundly conformist. Named after that patron saint of Japanese shoppers, Louis Vuitton, Lui falls in love based on a forked tongue, commits a betrayal based on a tattoo, absolves the guilt of murder with a dye job, solves a criminal mystery with a brand of incense, and finds domestic bliss in convenience store beer. If typical western readers find the emotional logic here implausible, I consider it social realism. As a university student in Tokyo, my first Cherry Blossom Viewing party was a strange one because the host had accidentally killed his brother that morning (a motorcycle on rain-slicked pavement), my lover (a luscious boy model who looked like a girl) announced his plans to cut and dye his hair to match mine so that we could "be together forever," and another acid-tripping young guest generously offered the crowd: "You can use my asshole. Anytime, please."
Lui's gluttonous brand of anorexia dictates a diet of all beer and ground teeth, a kind of communion-taking that would be particularly appealing to a reluctant 'Barbie Girl' with a taste for oblivion. It is not so unlike the lunch of liquid salad and fruit jelly of many Tokyo office ladies eager to maintain their "good body style" until a salaryman whisks them away for a fancy nine-kimono wedding and honeymoon in Paris... where the Louis Vuitton flagship awaits!
Kanehara is brilliant when describing the infinite ways to suffer: piercing one's tongue, being choked, encrusted with dried semen, drunk with no appetite, chatting with executives, abandonment, bad hair, lack of will. Her listless prose is the perfect lingua franca for a Japan peopled with numb blow-up dolls, whose only ambition is to stuff another orifice, down another drink, and try for a better hair style tomorrow.