This novella was recommended by Foyles in a post on Japanese fiction, and I bought it after reading their gushing review. When it arrived, I was surprised by how very short it is; the description on their website has now been updated to read “pamphlet”, but it was initially advertised as a novella.

The Girl Who is Getting Married
Aoko Matsuda, trans. Angus Turvill

It’s difficult to summarise The Girl who is Getting Married, because it’s difficult to grab hold of the plot. It follows a woman who is walking up a spiral staircase to see the eponymous bride before her wedding. As she walks, she thinks back over her relationship to the girl who is getting married, and the reader is invited into several snippets of memory.

This reminded me of Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which I reviewed a little while ago. That is, I think it is probably very clever and important, but I didn’t feel like it wanted to be read by an uneducated pleb like me. The narration shifts and turns with the twists in the staircase, and we never know who the narrator or the girl who is getting married actually are, or what their relationship has been. At times, the narrator and the girl appear to have been close friends, at times distant acquaintances; at times the narrator seems to have been attracted to or perhaps in love with the girl, but sometimes she seems to be her mother, or her daughter; sometimes she seems to be stalking her. There is some indication that she herself might be the girl who is getting married. We hear perhaps a dozen different “first meeting” stories, from schooldays to university to Saturday jobs. Even by the end, I was not sure what was going on–I know a lot of people relish that uncertainty in a book, but I really can’t stand it. The lack of names, for example, meant that I was unable to follow the narration clearly. This was probably the point, but I didn’t enjoy it.

The novella very successfully built up a sense of dread and panic throughout the narration–it is an oppressively claustrophobic book. Perhaps because I didn’t understand the ending, it seemed extremely anticlimactic to me. I did not feel like the anxiety and suspense that had been created was delivered upon. It is entirely possible that someone who was able to follow the narrative more precisely than me would feel differently.

Although I did not personally enjoy this book, I recognise that it is beautifully crafted. The snippets of memory or false memory we see are extremely vivid; the reader is rapidly moved from place to place. It seemed like something I would have been assigned to analyse in a contemporary or surrealist fiction class. It does not feel complete to me because I like clear endings, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Unreliable narrators, uncertainty in text, and general cleverness-that-I-don’t-understand are all very popular and I know a lot of people love them. The haunting atmosphere, the surrealist aspects–they would be a big draw to many people. I am not one of them, but it was very interesting nonetheless.