Banana Yoshimoto’s Asleep is a collection of three short stories connected by the theme of sleep. I had never read Yoshimoto before; this book has been languishing on my shelves for ages, bought from a great warehouse of books that no longer exists. It is the second book of my #TBR20 stack and I enjoyed it as much as, if not more than, The Reader. They can’t possibly all live up to this same standard, so I hope to stop gushing about books soon.
The first story, ‘Night and Night’s Travellers’, follows Shibami, who lost her brother, Yoshihiro, in a car crash. She finds a letter she once wrote to an ex-girlfriend of his, and many memories come flooding back. The story examines the effect of grief on Shibami and her cousin Mari very well, and heart-breaking secrets come to light. Yoshimoto seems to truly understand the ebbs and flows of grief, the way that tiny little things can cause waves of feeling to resurface. It was a good start to the collection.
The second story is called ‘Love Songs’, and follows a woman who is haunted by a woman she used to be in a love triangle with. The protagonist and her rival had a strange set up when they were younger; they would both stay at this boy’s house, waiting for him to return. Young love makes you do silly things. But sadly these silly things seem to go a lot deeper, as both women struggle with alcoholism. Perhaps they noticed something in each other. I also loved the surreal aspects of this story. The protagonist dreams of the woman she used to know and hate because she had died. She has a chance to catch up with her. This story is mysterious and deep without seeming worthy.
The final story is called ‘Asleep’ and is the longest. It follows a woman who is having an affair with a man whose wife is in a coma. She starts to feel extremely tired herself. ‘Asleep’ examines what people can do when their lives are on pause; the husband can’t start his life anew again, even though his wife will not recover. I liked the psychological aspects of this story. And, as these sorts of endings go, this one was hopeful and quite touching.
All three stories are bittersweet; stories about grief and depressions and addictions are handled with a lightness. I love these stories because they are doing a lot while seeming to be very casual. Yoshimoto is a writer who can keep a sense of humour when writing about some bleak things. She doesn’t dwell on her bleakness. I also think that Yoshimoto’s subtle use of the surreal works very well.
I loved reading all three stories in Asleep and I’m looking forward to reading more Banana Yoshimoto in the future. #TBR20 is going very well indeed.