Navel gazing”is a slang term that means someone who is focused inwards in such a way as to be totally unnoticing or uncaring of the world around them….It is also a good way to describe much of the contents of THE DARK ROOM by Junnosuke Yoshiyuke.
First off, I don’t know much about Yoshiyuke….I discovered this book through one of those referral deals on a Japanese Literature sight you know the kind that says “If you enjoyed that book, you will also enjoy this one”….THE DARK ROOM is written in first person and the very real nature of the story and the anecdotes contained and the fact the narrator is also a writer leads me to believe it is at least semi-autobiographical.
THE DARK ROOM is about a guy who has an eye for the small details in life….There are a number of descriptive asides in this book both reminisces and brief descriptions of everyday situations….The narrator is a 44 year old man who’s wife died a few years before….However, his love for her had faded by this time due to the suspicion he had that she had cheated on him with another more famous writer when they were newly married (This is never confirmed or disproven).
Much of THE DARK ROOM is about the narrator’s casual relationship with three women; Maki who is actually a lesbian, Takao who leaves him to accept a marriage proposal, and Natsue a rich man’s mistress who has many other relationships on the side as well.
In the end, only one of the women is left to him and it is the one with her endless stories of past lovers who can feed his writer’s insularity and interest in the lives of others for creative purposes.
There are times when one is reading this book that you wonder why someone took the effort to write it in the first place….Its characters are largely unlikable or don’t leave much of a lasting impression….Its story which involves sex is not especially descriptively titillating or interesting…..There isn’t a lot of insight into the human condition here either….The narrator is a hollow man that allows life to happen to him and wallows in unfulfilling decadence.
However, what I did like about this book was the very Un-Japanese nature of the choices the narrator makes and the way he views life and the setbacks and tragedies, both big and little, that befall him on the way….Some of the ways he describes incidents remind me of one of my favorite Japanese writers Osamu Dazai (whom I promise I will write about one day) but unlike Dazai (who committed suicide), Yoshiyuke chooses life….He’s too hip and arch and detached to make a dramatic gesture like suicide….In that way, THE DARK ROOM, written in the early 1970’s, is very modern.
I also like his attention to detail although I think he goes overboard with the depraved side of his relationship with Natsue during the last 30 pages of the book….Truth is I could imagine sitting in a bar while the narrator tells me some of these stories….From a technical viewpoint, this is a unique novel, disjointed and narcissistic at times, yes, but enjoying the offbeat narrative style makes it worth the read.