Book Review: "People From My Neighbourhood"
4/5 - fearsome flash-fiction...
For starters, let me say that I do not normally read flash fiction as it is a bit too short and non-descriptive for me. I like long, philosophical and breathtaking descriptions of atmosphere and setting so the longer the book means the more the description and the more the description, then the better. However, I have read Hiromi Kawakami before. I have read “Strange Weather in Tokyo” and “The Nakano Thrift Shop” and both of those book explore realms of the extraordinary other in terms of their place in the world if they existed. This book entitled “People from my Neighbourhood” is not much different but instead of exploring the extraordinary other, it instead normalises or attempts to observe the behaviour of the people who are considered to be ‘normal’ and therefore, ‘others’ the ordinary. Kawakami does an amazing job of writing to shock and terrify but sometimes the stories are far too short and lose their effect straight after reading. So overall, I would think this book is a good attempt at shocking flash fiction but probably was not up to my own personal tastes.
The strangest thing about this entire book is that each of the stories is connected to the previous one in some weird way. There is something about the story before which makes the story after it seem more unsettling though the story before has probably already lost its impact due to its length or lack of. When we commit to reading the book I think the one thing we must keep an eye on is the characters as they are the ‘people’ and will be seen in other stories as well as their own. In one story we meet a girl who collects the brains of dolls and stores them in a box. The protagonist and narrator is shown what is inside the box and describes it as some kind of strange and gooey substance that they are pretty disgusted by. There is this impending doom, a sense of dread that comes along with this disgust and though it only lasts for less than half a page, there is something very torturous about the whole thing. It is like the narrator is still sitting there looking at the box and its contents against their will and thus, this creates the unease that comes with reading the various stories.
This is just one of the ways in which the book creates this ‘fearsome’ nature of the neighbours. It seems like every neighbour looks or seems normal upon glance but then, digging deeper there is the message that nobody is really normal, or that whatever normal is nobody is able to properly define or perform it in the comfort of their own homes. However, I think that this book slightly misses the trick when it comes to connecting the stories together. Simply by character of reference is not really enough to enthral the reader. Something like Yoko Ogawa’s “Revenge” would have been more apt in which all of the stories are connected by character, symbol and theme.
In conclusion, there were things in this book which were not really for me even though the stories themselves disgusted me from time to time. It was brilliantly written for a book of flash fiction and has the brilliance of Hiromi Kawakami’s extended metaphors on normality to thank for that. I believe that I will stick to Hiromi Kawakami’s novels though as I seem to enjoy those more. The shock, though wearing off by the end of the story, manages to hang around by the mention of the name or reference in the next story or stories. It is a special skill Kawakami has proven good, but not great at.