Eric Boss reviews THE TEN LOVES OF NISHINO
This is the second book by Hiromi Kawakami that has come into my reading sphere. The first was The Nakano Thrift Shop, a wonderfully lighthearted look at the people and objects that pass through a second-hand store in Tokyo. Here the author has produced a set of ten linked vignettes centered on an unusually likeable/unlikeable character, Yukihiko Nishino.
Nishino loves women, or he would like to be able to love them, if he could only figure out how it’s done. He is attractive and sexually skilled to the extent that women can love him, even if they sometimes hate him at the same time. In defense of his promiscuity, it needs to be said that he is utterly honest about his multitude of affairs and quite openly discusses his paramours with whatever woman he’s currently attending. The attitudes towards sex and relationships are interestingly casual. The dynamic between the men and women in Nishino’s world is astonishingly free of burdensome impediments. Breezy is the word where carnal matters are concerned for the characters in this remarkable book.
Each of the stories is told from the point of view of the central female of the hour and day, since Nishino is pretty much in constant rotation between new and old lovers. They appear in each other’s accounts from time to time making the warp and weft of the whole delightfully complex. Immediately after having praised his amusing personality, his immaculate grooming, his lighthearted conversation or some other equally engaging aspect of the man, the reader is as likely to hear that the narrator wishes him dead, or at least disappeared. As a look at what both men and women find attractive and compelling in each other, this is an interesting examination of the eternal struggle. Even in the one marginally nonsexual story, that of Nishino’s love for his sister, there are subtle tones of attraction that
may transcend what the reader thinks of as proper sibling affection.
In all, these are wonderfully entertaining stories with an electricity enlivening the narrative of an astonishingly broad set of male-female encounters. There is a certain melancholy about the ephemeral quality of the affairs, felt on both sides, but seemingly woven into their fabric.
Shelf talker: Kawakami portrays with tender sensitivity the exquisitely melancholic dichotomy of loving the equally lovable and unlovable Yukihiko Nishino. Love and hate frequently occupy the same territory in this series of linked stories.