by Tomoka Shibasaki (translated by Polly Barton)
published by Pushkin Press, 2017
Winner of the Akutagawa Prize in Japan, Tomoka Shibasaki’s novella, Spring Garden, is a study in loneliness and loss, the passage of time, and the human relationship with the built environment.
Taro, recently divorced and grieving for his dead father, is one of a handful of people still living in an apartment block, due to be knocked down for redevelopment. His time is spent on his own: going to work, lying down at home and observing his neighbours. He becomes intrigued by Nishi, a woman who lives upstairs and who obsesses over an old, sky-blue house which features in a book of photographs she owns. Nishi and Taro strike up a friendship and when she wants to see inside the house he helps her.
This is a quiet and often humorous short novel which looks with fresh eyes at the often lonely and alienating way we live in cities, in identikit houses far removed from the natural world. It questions the power of photographs and memories to capture and freeze ‘the past’. Do the pictures in Nishi’s book reflect reality, or are they staged? What do we mean by happiness? And is it possible to find a place and way of living that makes happiness achievable?
A subtle and poignant book.