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Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa

Slow Boat

by Hideo Furukawa

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(I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher in return for an honest review)

In his "liner notes" afterword Hideo Furukawa acknowledges his debt to Haruki Murakami and describes Slow Boat as a remix of Murakami's story Slow Boat to China.
"For me," he admits, "Murakami is at the centre of it all - the roots of my soul" and the influence is clear with his hapless narrator, constantly thwarted by fate and the transient love of the women that briefly intersect with his life. But Slow Boat is more than a fan's tribute to his hero, it's an assured piece of writing in its own right.

"This is the story fifth-grade boy hell-bent on making sense of his dreams. Cracking the code" . So Slow Boat's own narrator Boku describes his story and the tale often occupies that strange territory between sleep and waking. Boku's dreams often intersect with his life, tantalising him with hints of meaning (which also call to the reader as Furukawa tips his hat to his own novel with pop-culture references) and the writing is full of jerky, confused dream-logic, bringing with it the feeling of heart-racing awakening from frenzied chases and unbelievable twists of fate that balloon out of control. As a coming-of-age story it is full of the failings and frustrations of a youth in a world that seems determined to defeat him. The overarching theme of (failing to) "escape" from Tokyo is full of that deep, visceral need to just get out of the place you were born that many will recognise. To slip the collar of the place that has for so long defined you.

"Idiots." Boku sneers at one point, "Tokyo thought my Trojan Horse was avant-garde? Die, Tokyo, die."

There is also a preoccupation with language and its ability to confuse, miscommunicate, from the imperfect similarities of Chinese and Japanese Kanji to his attempts to understand the words of his hyper-vocal first girlfriend. But there is also the fellowship provided by a shared language as relationships develop through a shared vocabulary such as the secret language he develops with his friends to supply the deficiencies of Japanese to describe the experience of a changing world. ( )
  moray_reads | Mar 20, 2018 |
Bizarre, funny, dreamy novella that will probably be more rewarding for fans of Murakami and close readers of Murakami's work. Furukawa acknowledges his debt to Murakami, and presents this as an homage to him by way of a "remix" of a Murakami short story that I've not read (but will probably get around to after this). I liked Murakami for a short while while in university, and after that I seemed to not care very much for his style. Furukawa's novella bristles with the restless energy of an outsider; and for anyone who has wanted to escape a place only to find that most exit routes lead back to the same place, or are simply false points of escape, this book will ring true. It's very self-aware and funny. Fed up with being unable to leave Tokyo, the narrator hits upon the idea of bringing "the out" in; "the Trojan Horse of Tokyo" with which he can one-up Tokyo by leaving withoutleaving, but even that doesn't work out as planned. (It never does.) Furukawa's structural play with dreamscapes and the notes on the unreliability of language also strike a deeper and more poignant note than usual Murakami fare. This is a strange novella and strangely rewarding. I found David Boyd's "Americanised" English translation grating, at first, and somewhat excessive, but it started to grow on me, steeped as the book is in American pop culture references.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for a review copy on NetGalley.) ( )
  subabat | Mar 19, 2018 |
This new Japanese novella, published by Pushkin Press in a translation by David Boyd, is an odd beast. I asked to review it as part of my mission to read more from other cultures and because I've been generally impressed with the Japanese fiction I have read. The tale of a man wandering in Tokyo on Christmas Eve 2002, pondering the boundaries of the city, the body and the self, it's a curiously hallucinogenic mix.

Our narrator wanders (apparently aimlessly) through Tokyo, exploring abandoned parks and tracing the city's perimeter on the metro. There's an element of the caged animal about his movements: a man rendered powerless by his surroundings. He has never made it out of the sprawling metropolitan district of Tokyo, although he has made three attempts, at three different periods of his life. Each is bound up with the story of one of the women he has loved. As he tells us these stories, we dip into vignettes of the young man's life - at the ages of ten, nineteen and twenty-six - and follow his increasing struggle for self-direction and self-awareness. Each of these women, in different ways, challenges him to contemplate breaking the boundaries that have kept him penned in Tokyo, and each time Fate intervenes in a different way...

For the full review, due to be published on 18 April, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2017/04/18/slow-boat-hideo-furukawa ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Apr 17, 2017 |
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