Skip to main content

The 210th Day by Sōseki Natsume

"It may perhaps make sparks
in the centre of Tokyo..."
Many (many) years ago I came across I Am A Cat by Sōseki Netsuke (a bookseller's nightmare considering the occidental trend to westernise Japanese names and thus oft-times finding itself in both N and S on the shelves) in a manner I can no longer remember, and was instantly smitten by its insouciance and wit. I went about flogging it to every vacillating browser I could assault in a typical fit of smittenness. In fact, you can find a link to it just below this review, down there. Click on it. It's a great book and is cheaper if you choose to purchase it on Kindle. Take a look. Just down there. You'll love it, I promise. Go on. Ahh go on. Go on, go on go on etc.

So anyway, I also went about hoovering up all the English translations of his work I could find, as is my particular peccadillo, and to stare lovingly at them as I promised, but failed, to actually read any of them. Worryingly, when recently prompted to revisit the shelves by more Eastern wonderfulness, I realised that only two very slim volumes remained; My Individualism and the Philosophical Foundations of Literature (see below. Ah go on.) and this very short novella, The 210th Day. Where were the rest? Oh, ah. Um. Yes. I gave them all away. Whoops.

So, not in the mood for literary theory, I picked this one up, and got stuck in. Thirty-five minutes later, I was back at my shelves, looking for something else to read.


No that this was terrible. Far from it. It's just that, even with the enlightening introduction, it runs to barely 90 pages*. "A relatively minor work," warns Marvin Marcus in his introduction, and an étude of sorts.

What it is, basically, is a conversation, based on a similar experience the author had with his friend, in 1899, between two characters; one with a strong opinion on inequality in society, and the other fairly well to do and with a much more laissez-faire attitude about these things (but not about having to eat udon...). The two have agreed to climb Mount Aso, an active volcano, to take a look at the white hot rocks it is reputed to eject regularly, but unfortunately, have chosen the 210th day of the lunar calendar to do so, which is, ostensibly, typically associated with storms and typhoons. They fail to make it to the top, one of them losing his hat and the other falling into a lava channel, but back at the inn, fed and watered, our former tofu-seller, the social conscience of the dialogue, convinces his friend to try again, and there the story ends.

It's fun, if brief, and has some lovely moments of humour, particularly when the maid at the inn misunderstands their food order for half-boiled (i.e. soft-boiled) eggs, and brings four, two of which are boiled hard and two of which are raw. It also has a fairly standard dichotomy of views on the rich industrial barons and the workers on the shop floor, but explored in an entertaining fashion. As a literary experiment, I can't tell you if it was successful, but as a train station diversion, a waiting room book, it has enormous merit. 

*And I paid £10.99 for it. 

  

Comments

How's about that then?

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…

UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!
I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …