Book Review

Vibrator by Mari Akasaka

a great Japanese novel

As with my last post, I actually read this book weeks ago. It turns out that it’s time-consuming, stressful and complicated to move across an ocean, in the way that moving between British cities and from the UK to Spain really isn’t. I spent most of the first half of January driving around the UK collecting the dispersed remnants of my previous life, packing them up in boxes and getting them to various airports for forwarding to the New World. I also had to get my dog ready to move, had to do my taxes and I had to – of course – do as much socialising as possible, because I know nobody bar my dog and my lover in this city, and although I’m a bit of a recluse slash misanthrope, I’m not uncaring towards the people I actually like.

ready for the winter in my thermals

I’ve been here just under a week now. I have begun the process of looking for work, I’ve got a Canadian phone number and I’ve written a review for Open Pen. I’ve bought some proper thermal underclothes and I’ve got myself some real heavy duty snow boots. There is a “polar vortex” weather front due this weekend and I’m terrified and excited, but mainly terrified and only really excited because I feel I should be, just like I used to feel about sex lololol. But, seriously, I’m as practically prepared for it as I can be, so all I have to do is dive into the snow (not literally) and see what happens. Hmm. I’ll be cold, maybe my nose will hurt due to the temperature and maybe my neck/ears will too if I don’t keep my scarf/hat fastened properly to my head, but other than those minor risks, I should be fine. My dog has some nice little booties for the gritted pavements (he’s fine with snow, but not with salt), so I think we’re ready to go. We’ll go to the wine shop and cuddle up all weekend with some books and some fat reds, I think. I mean, that’s my plan. I’m thinking aloud here. Not aloud, I’m typing it. There’s no buffer between my internal monologue and this paragraph, which is nice. For me, not you.

///

Vibrator

It’s now been, as I said, weeks since I finished reading Vibrator by Mari Akasaka (Faber and Faber, 2005, translated Michael Emmerich, originally published in Japan in 1999), but much of it has really stuck with me, mainly because the only other novel I’ve read this calendar year was pretty mediocre (see my latest review for Open Pen). No, this is unfair towards Vibrator, because it’s a great book and I think one that I would have enjoyed in most circumstances, though possibly I would have enjoyed it more at less content/positive points in my life, because it’s about mental illness and sexuality and eating disorders and loneliness and being reclusive, all of which are topics I enjoy (is that the right word? No, probably not) reading about.

The novel begins in a way that is very reminiscent of The Bell-Jar, in that it is about a young woman who is unhappy, but doesn’t really have anyone to talk to or anything except work to distract her. Using a more contemporary understanding of depression and other related psychological issues, however, Vibrator offers an engaging but depressing look at the thought processes that lead people into bulimia and alcoholism while still maintaining an outward veneer of respectability and an internal sense of “managing”. I know what that’s like, to be a complete mess by other people’s standards, yet functioning at your absolute personal best, or – at least – thinking that you are. Akasaka perfectly captures that gulf between coping mechanisms and the way we understand their flaws, how people like Rei (the protagonist) and I continue to do something that makes things worse in the long term but, today, just for a bit, feels like it helps. Drinking to get to sleep as standard practice isn’t good for you, but so many other things that feel wrong aren’t “technically” bad for you, and it is easy to feel that as your own little methods work work work work work for you, why the hell shouldn’t you do them, cuz other people get to do much more outwardly destructive things to get by, right?

Rei has a personal sexual awakening, she travels around the country shagging a long distance lorry driver, and though she maybe isn’t any more settled by the end she is on her way towards rebuilding the kind of personal confidence and inner peace that are required to push through towards a better future. The titular vibrator isn’t a sex toy, instead it is the cab of her lover’s lorry, vibrating as it constantly does due to the never-switched-off engine. Sex is an intoxicant, so is booze, so are many other things, but to decry that these are inherently bad and unhelpful isn’t fair on anyone who’s alive. Rei is happier, better, less trapped in behaviours she wants to avoid. There is a journey here, and though it’s maybe not an easy or a casual one, it’s well-written, well-constructed and well worth a read.

Right. I’m gonna put some clothes on and go ice skating. SCOTTY’S FUCKING INTEGRATING!!!

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Buy Vibrator direct from Faber and Faber via this link.


On November 14th 2018, I launched my first book, Bad Boy Poet, in the basement of Burley Fisher Books, Dalston. Here are some of the songs and poems I performed:

Order Bad Boy Poet from the publisher here.

Order Bad Boy Poet with free Worldwide Shipping from The Book Depository here.

Order Bad Boy Poet from Amazon/Waterstones/Hive/Foyles etc if you’d prefer.


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It ain’t easy living this hard. I work and I work and I write and I write and only rarely does the writing sling me any dinero. If you like what I’m doing here, then please consider donating me a fiver or multiples thereof. The more you donate, the less time I have to spend doing other things for money and the more ice hot content I can carve out for you. I don’t expect anything to come through here, tbh, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Christ, I hope it doesn't hurt to ask. If posting this here a few times cripples my viewing figures I'll feel like a right Icarus.

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