Wonderful visions of night Tokyo from a modern Japanese master

Book critics Cameron Woodhead and Fiona Capp have turned their eyes to new fiction and non-fiction. Here are their reviews.

Fiction selection of the week

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All lovers at night
Mieko Kawakami, Chopper, $ 32.99

Fuyuko is a 34-year-old moth who leads an isolated life. Without a partner, vice, and close friends, the loner has become a routine that sporadically associates only with her spirited superior, Hijiri, who introduces her to sake and beer.

The novel then transitions from a ghostly separation to the drunken underworld, writhing in a darkly futuristic night landscape, while a ray of light emerges from geek romance. The love-object physicist, Mutsutsuka, may or may not be a fantasy, but for a time he will delay Fuyuk’s confrontation with the trauma that emptied her life.

Mieko Kawakami is an inner force in modern Japanese fiction and manages this unraveling with bold vitality, her psychological insight is similar to a scalpel as her descriptive abilities (which, among other things, she transforms into great evocations of night Tokyo in the 21st century).

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Confidence
Hernan Diaz, Chopper $ 32.99

If postmodern literature has a reputation for disappearing on its own, metafictional techniques are well used in Hernan Diaz’s book. Confidence. The truth is buried in a trail of money in this puzzle-like story.

It starts as Links, a novel set in New York in the 1920s. First, we watch a Wall Street mogul and his wife, an art patron, reach the spectacular heights of wealth and celebrities. The footsteps of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald stand out from behind the spell; nevertheless, there is a risk of an economic catastrophe and with it a terrible settlement. The following are notes on the story we just read, and the dismantling continues as we switch to Brooklyn’s secretary during the Depression. She is employed by a mogul whose life is life Links was founded – a narcissist outraged by freedoms and determined to tell the story in his own way.

It is a poorly constructed literary labyrinth that draws the reader deeply into questions of how extreme wealth can bend reality, how easily truth can be manipulated by the powerful.

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Life as told by the Sapiens Neanderthals
Juan Jose Miles and Juan Luis Arsuaga, Scribe, $ 29.99

Human prehistory can confuse any hard line between fiction and non-fiction. The evidence excites the imagination, and the subject has aroused literary interest – remember William Golding’s obsession with Neanderthals in Heirs – for what the crucible of evolution could tell us about human nature.

Life as told by the Sapiens Neanderthals connects one of the most prolific and popular contemporary Spanish novelists, Juan Jose Miles, with a professor of paleontology, and the result is a thoughtful, wise and impeccably crafted discovery of European prehistory, which goes through the veneer of the contemporary world.

It’s a kind of essayistic literary work that draws the story out of stone, as WG Sebald does, and is likely to appeal to readers who are more inclined to the factual side of the frontier, such as fans of the late Stephen Jay. Gould.

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What we all saw
Mike Lucas, Penguin, $ 19.99

A decent introduction to Stephen King-style horror for early stage readers, Mike Lucas What we all saw focuses on four friends – Shell, Gray, Charlie and the narrator – who, as we have been told from the beginning, cover the death of a child.

Everyone had heard rumors of Hag’s Drop, an imposing cliff from which witches had been thrown to death long ago. It is said that this place is still haunted by the spirit of a vengeful witch, and when children try their fate by investigation, things take a turn for the worse and the nightmare comes to life.

I especially liked the character of Shell, a living visually impaired girl who seems to be the most vulnerable to danger, but who is also the wisest, the one who sees what others don’t. The novel remains age-appropriate – there’s nothing too scary about it – and it’s basically a well-filmed friendship dressed in the strain of psychological and supernatural horror.

A selection from the non-fiction of the week

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A dolphin named Jock
Melody Horrill, Allen & Unwin, $ 32.99

Melody Horrill grew up holding her breath and waited in fright for another violent eruption between her parents. It was her childhood that left her disconnected from the world and the people around her. Serendipity in the form of an encounter with a damaged dolphin named Jock opened up “the possibility of belonging, love in its raw, unfiltered form.”

The dark story of her background is woven with the light that Jock brought into her life as she volunteered and monitored river dolphins in the waters of Port Adelaide. The confidence the lone dolphin showed her, his unfettered expressions of joy in her company, and his hunger for the union transformed her.

The captivating arc of their story has the satisfying quality of a contemporary fairy tale with an urgent message about a fragile but deep bond between humans and the natural world.

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Horde of words
Hana Viden, Princeton University Press, $ 27.99

When the word “wordhord” appears in Old English literature, it is usually associated with the term “unlock” – which is exactly what this wonderful book does. It unlocks a 1000-year-old treasure trove of Old English words that inflect our language and understanding of the world.

While some Old English words such as “bliss”, “cild”, “wis”, “craeft” and “englisc” live almost unchanged, others seep into our consciousness secretly. The “house” was replaced by a “judgment” – from the French to the Norman invasion – but persists in “destruction”.

The earthiness of much of Old English makes it ripe for revival. Take “end-woerc” for “buttock pain” or “torn word” for a word that causes sadness or anxiety. And what a pity we can’t give COVID the more inspired name “Oelf-siden”: an unknown affliction accompanied by fever.

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Nothing but the truth
Secret Advocate, Chopper, $ 34.99

When this anonymous British lawyer began, they firmly believed that “stories of sobs with heart bleeding do not deprive you of your role in the social contract.” Exposure to the world of criminal law has completely changed them.

The Secret Barrister starts with law school and a hyper-competitive “brown nose race” to get a student with an experienced lawyer, until they realize that people imprisoned in the criminal justice system can be truly innocent. As the years go by, there is a risk of exposure to torturous cases and frightening images, and how this can cause one to move between lightness and paranoia.

While it may sound grim, this journey through the underworld of criminal justice is written with knowing ease, a seasoned wit, and a refined understanding of the complexity of human affairs.

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The internet is not what you think it is
Justin EH Smith, Princeton University Press, $ 34.99

In the beginning, when the philosopher Justin Smith struggled with where the Internet had taken us, he accused him of being “anti-human.” Yet, just as the internet is not what you think it is, so is this book.

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While Smith looks at what’s wrong with the web – especially impressive is his research into how it affects our attention and how it encourages us to trade our feelings for the “algorithmically renderable profile” – it also offers an overall vision of this machine-assisted communication as an extension of all forms of communication in nature.

As for human history, he argues that the evolution of the Internet “is only the latest turning point in a much longer history of thinking about the interconnectedness and unity of all things.” So even though it shows us how the net deforms, it remains wary of the weft of the whole fabric and the positive potential that it hides in itself. It’s hard to read, but it’s worth it.

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