Nick Bradley’s successful debut novel, The Cat and the City (2020), was entirely focused on chaotic life in Tokyo as viewed through the eyes of a number of different narrators with overlapping lives. His second novel contains a few characters we have already met and starts out in Tokyo, but it soon shifts to Onomichi, a seaside town in Hiroshima Prefecture overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. Onomichi’s major claim to fame is that it features in Yasojirō Ozu’s classic film Tokyo Story.
The structure of the novel is a story within a story. Flo, an American translator of Japanese literature living in Tokyo, finds a book on a train called Sound of Water by an unknown author called Hibiki (‘Echo’). It tells the tale of an elderly, traditionally minded Onomichi cafe owner, Ayako, and her nineteen-year-old grandson, Kyo. Kyo is staying with his grandmother in order to study for his university entrance exams, which he is resitting. He is a ronin-sei, or student failure. His ambitious but conservative single mother, who works as a doctor, wants him to hole up in her mother’s house in Onomichi and pass his exams so that he can follow in her footsteps and get into medical school. Kyo’s real passion, however, ignored by his mother but encouraged by his grandmother, is drawing manga.
Ayako has suffered her share of tragedy. Her father died when she was a small child, vaporised in the atomic attack on Hiroshima. Her beloved husband died young while on a climbing expedition on Mount Tanigawa. Her son, a successful photojournalist, drowned himself in Osaka after becoming depressed from