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Patient X: The Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa

by David Peace

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641405,830 (2.88)5
The acclaimed author of Occupied City, Tokyo Year Zero, and The Red Riding Quartet now gives us a stunning work of fiction in twelve connected tales that take up the strange, brief life of the brilliant twentieth-century Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Haunting and evocative, brutal and surreal, these twelve connected tales evoke the life of the Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), whose short story "In the Grove" served as an inspiration for Akira Kurosawa's famous film Rashōmon, and whose narrative use of multiple perspectives and different versions of a single event influenced generations of storytellers. Writing out of his own obsession with Akutagawa, David Peace delves into the known facts and events of the writer's life and inner world--birth to a mother who was mentally ill and a father who died shortly thereafter; his own battles with mental illness; his complicated reaction to the beginnings of modernization and Westernization of Japan; his short but prolific writing career; his suicide at the age of thirty-five--and creates a stunningly atmospheric and deeply moving fiction that tells its own story of a singularly brilliant mind.… (more)
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I'm kind of torn with this one. I've read a bit of Akutagawa, so was probably better placed than some to approach this novel-cum-(auto)biography of the great Japanese writer. Peace is an excellent writer, and some of his sentences and imagery were just sublime. The fragmentary experience of the book was indeed suitable for what he was trying to achieve: a sideways look, almost as if it was in the shadows, at the life of the great man. It will have you reaching for your normal reference source on the internet to try and find out if a particular character is real or imagined, which is fine. This is the kind of book where the overall impression is the thing, not any specific 'did this happen or not?' It's a re-imagining, not a biography.

However, it just lacked something for me. As ever, with books like this, my reference point is Alex Pheby's astonishing 'Lucia', a fictional/biographical 'excavation' of James Joyce's daughter, which was published, funnily enough, pretty much at the same time as 'Patient X' in 2018. For me, that does things that 'Patient X' does not, and so as much as I enjoyed David Peace's book, and as much as it gives a reader a wider perspective of the man behind the work, it just doesn't quite reach the heights to which it aspires. 3.5 stars. ( )
  Alan.M | Mar 30, 2020 |
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The acclaimed author of Occupied City, Tokyo Year Zero, and The Red Riding Quartet now gives us a stunning work of fiction in twelve connected tales that take up the strange, brief life of the brilliant twentieth-century Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Haunting and evocative, brutal and surreal, these twelve connected tales evoke the life of the Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), whose short story "In the Grove" served as an inspiration for Akira Kurosawa's famous film Rashōmon, and whose narrative use of multiple perspectives and different versions of a single event influenced generations of storytellers. Writing out of his own obsession with Akutagawa, David Peace delves into the known facts and events of the writer's life and inner world--birth to a mother who was mentally ill and a father who died shortly thereafter; his own battles with mental illness; his complicated reaction to the beginnings of modernization and Westernization of Japan; his short but prolific writing career; his suicide at the age of thirty-five--and creates a stunningly atmospheric and deeply moving fiction that tells its own story of a singularly brilliant mind.

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