The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada (Translated from Japanese by David Boyd) - review by M John Harrison

M John Harrison

Free Fallin’

The Hole

By

Granta Books 96pp £12.99
 

Hiroko Oyamada’s first novel, The Factory, won her the Sinchō Prize for new Japanese writing; The Hole, her second, took the Akutagawa Prize in 2013 and now appears as a smart little hardback in a translation by David Boyd. A novella of self-repression, it veers sentence to sentence between Gothic claustrophobia and the whimsy of a Studio Ghibli production. Deferring to neither mode makes it a successful, uncomfortable commentary on Japanese workaholism.

Asahi (‘Asa’) and her husband, Muneaki, are in their late twenties. The marriage, already quietened into routine, is disrupted suddenly when they’re forced to move out of the city. Both have work there, but Asa’s is low-paid and impermanent, ‘not the kind of job that’s worth holding on to’. Muneaki’s salary, though, is vital; if they want to keep it, he must accept a transfer. Luckily, his parents live no distance from the new workplace and own an empty house right next door to the family home. While a rental agreement has to be made for tax purposes, rent will never actually be paid. Muneaki will have a more convenient commute to his new office and Asa can take on the role of a proper housewife, someone who, as her best friend at work says enviously, is ‘living the dream’. She’ll be ‘free to look after the house’. She can bake. She can ‘do a little gardening’. What could be more perfect?

There are issues, of course. Although she never much liked her job, which was dull and exploitative, she is a little resentful at having it taken away like this, by circumstance. The new house is nice, but any kind of work is difficult to find. And her mother-in-law,

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